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Stamp Duty Land Tax (Temporary Relief) Bill

Volume 678: debated on Monday 13 July 2020

Considered in Committee (Order, this day)

[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Clause 1

Reduced rates of SDLT on residential property for a temporary period

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause 2 stand part.

New clause 1—Review of impact of Act

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before the House of Commons within three months of Royal Assent a review of the impact of this Act. (2) Such a review must include an assessment of the impact of the Act on— (a) first-time buyers, (b) existing owner-occupiers moving home, (c) buy-to-let investors, (d) those buying second homes, and (e) overseas buyers.”

Member’s explanatory statement This new clause would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to report to Parliament on the impact of the Act, and in particular its impact on different groups of property owner.

This Bill increases the nil rate band of stamp duty land tax from £125,000 to £500,000 from 8 July 2020 and runs until 31 March 2021. If I may, I will speak to clauses 1 and 2, and also to new clause 1 tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

This Bill contains two clauses. Clause 1 provides for the thresholds at which stamp duty land tax is due on residential property to be increased for a temporary release period, with effect from 8 July 2020 to 31 March 2021. The effect of this is that the first £500,000 of consideration for standard purchases of residential property will be free of tax, whereas previously only the first £125,000 was free of tax. The clause changes the rules in relation to other elements of stamp duty land tax, which are affected by the temporary holiday, such as the higher rate for the purchase of additional properties and first-time buyers’ relief. The higher rate traditional dwellings will continue to apply in addition to the standard rates of stamp duty land tax. This means that for purchase of additional dwellings, the first £500,000 of the consideration will be subject to the higher rates of 3% on top of any existing SDLT rates. Further, the clause ensures that section 57B and schedule 6ZA of the Finance Act 2003, which gives effect to first-time buyers’ relief, is temporarily disregarded until 31 March 2021.

Finally, the clause makes sure that no additional checks will be due when a contract is completed after the temporary relief period has ended, if the transaction was substantially performed within the temporary relief period. This is provided that the only reason for additional tax becoming due is the return to the standard rates of SDLT after the end of the temporary relief period.

Clause 2 provides that the Bill may be cited as the Stamp Duty Land Tax (Temporary Relief) Bill. The Bill comes into force on Royal Assent, but applies in relation to transactions with an effective date on or after 8 July 2020. As a result of the resolutions passed by the House of Commons under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968, the Bill’s provisions have effectively been in force since 8 July 2020.

I shall briefly turn to Labour’s new clause 1, which calls for a review of the impact of the Act. To that I would respond that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs routinely publishes quarterly and annual statistics and analysis of stamp duty land tax data, including on first-time buyers and those purchasing additional dwellings. The Government also already closely monitor those statistics and keep stamp duty policy under constant review. As part of that, we will continue to examine the effect of the temporary rate change. This is a straightforward Bill to enact the temporary relief to stamp duty land tax announced last week by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I therefore commend clauses 1 and 2 to the House and ask the House to reject new clause 1.

It is a pleasure to speak in the Committee stage of the Bill. The Bill was only published at the beginning of the debate, and it has just two clauses. I will direct my remarks primarily to our new clause 1. We are asking the Government at least to accept the principle behind the new clause. I do not think the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was able to put our minds at rest on the question of which people and groups will benefit from the cut set out in the Bill. He said that it was quite untrue that it would benefit the owners of second homes or multiple homes, but I think we need a review to give us the facts. We need to find out whether first-time buyers, existing owner-occupiers moving home, buy-to-let investors, those buying second homes and overseas buyers are among groups that will benefit from the policy.

The Financial Secretary did not give us a clear response to the fact that £1.3 billion of the cost of this scheme looks likely to benefit those who are already home owners. We want the Government to commit to reviewing the Bill’s impact in an open and transparent way. We want to know whether such a large sum will deliver value for money and what the broader impact of this will be on the housing sector. The Government should want to consider how this, their flagship policy, will contribute to solving the housing crisis and how it will impact on the economy overall. Our new clause will help to achieve that, and the Government should accept it.

Covid-19 has highlighted the deep inequalities that existed long before this pandemic. Many people have been left desperate for support. Hundreds of thousands of people already have less money coming in, and hundreds of thousands have lost, or will lose, their jobs. The Government have thrown an eye-watering amount of money at our economy, but we do not yet know how this increasing mountain of debt will be paid back, or by whom. In the meantime, paying bills, rents and mortgages has become hard for millions of households. We must therefore question whether this tax cut should be a priority for the Government. It is expected to cost £3.8 billion, yet it will mainly benefit the wealthiest. The average earner, including the young generation who are struggling to pay ever-increasing rents, let alone be able to put down enough money to buy a house, will see nothing of it. The discount might provide a tax holiday for the privileged few, but it completely ignores the fact that the majority of people are unable to buy a home of their own now, and are never likely to do so in the future.

In my constituency of Bath, the availability of housing for first-time buyers is limited and house prices are expensive. The average house price in Bath is currently more than £430,000. A first-time buyer would qualify for £10,000 under the new rates, but even that would provide little benefit to a first-time buyer in my constituency who cannot secure a deposit or who faces an unaffordable mortgage. The cut to stamp duty will not solve the real problems at the heart of the housing crisis. Housing is one of the most important sectors for job creation—I agree with the Minister on that—but where is the focus on building social homes for rent? Social homes are the only way to provide secure and affordable housing for everyone, but, most importantly, for those on lower incomes. The private sector has completely failed to build social homes, and only a huge Government infrastructure programme to build social housing, as we saw in the ’50s and ’60s, will bring our social housing stock back to where it needs to be. That would create the jobs we need as well as the homes we need. Surely at this time, genuinely affordable homes are more important than ever, and more important than a stamp duty cut.

Lastly, the climate emergency has not gone away during covid, and we know that emissions from homes account for 30% of UK emissions. Decarbonising homes is therefore crucial to getting to net zero. Improving the energy efficiency of social housing is something that the Government could do straight away. They could also require landlords to achieve minimum levels of energy efficiency in order to be able to rent their homes. We need a Government with a vision to get the economy going, not a tax cut for only the few.

I thank the hon. Members for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) for their comments. There may be some slight misapprehension from the hon. Gentleman—I did not actually say what he said I said. I said it is not true that this measure will disproportionately benefit second home owners, and that is because it has a proportionate effect across the whole population of home ownership. However, he should also be reassured that we in the Treasury keep a very careful watch over these taxes. They are monitored and assessed and their impacts are regularly reported on.

As I said, the Bill will help to deliver a Government aim to ensure that people feel confident to move, buy, sell, renovate and improve their homes, and it is a policy that the Labour party has indicated that it supports. On that basis, I commend clauses 1 and 2 to the House and respectfully ask that it does not support new clause 1.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Mr Deputy Speaker, let me say how gracefully you migrated from being Chairman to Mr Deputy Speaker without any of us really noticing the change—thank you for that brilliant transfiguration. It is extraordinary to think that it is now four months almost to the day since my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer stood before the House to deliver the Government’s first Budget. That proved to be the first in a series of very large economic interventions from this Government, all of which have been designed to buttress our public services and protect the most vulnerable in our society from this virus, while also supporting people’s jobs and livelihoods through the lockdown. Four months on, as he said, a “new phase” has begun in the Government’s economic response to covid-19 with the publication of our plan for jobs.

As the Chancellor made clear when he addressed the House last Wednesday, there is no room for dogma or ideology in this approach. If the first phase of our response focused on protection, this second phase is focused on the need to give everyone the opportunity of good and secure work in the future. However, it is certainly not the last measure that we will enact. The Government have said that they will bring forward both a Budget and a spending review in the autumn, when we will be in a better position to put our public finances on a secure footing and consider the long-term fiscal measures required for a sustained and successful recovery. Nor should we forget that many of the programmes that the Government have introduced to date still have a significant time to run. They include the coronavirus jobs retention scheme, the furlough scheme and the self-employment income support scheme, which will continue through the summer and the early autumn before ending in October.

However, at this moment millions of people are still facing considerable uncertainty and fearing for their jobs right now. They need to know that there is hope for the future, which is why we have acted with a plan for jobs. This Bill—I hope soon it will be an Act—is a very important part of that plan for jobs, and I commend it to the House.

The Opposition will not be opposing the Bill. We are acutely aware that people need support after months of lockdown when they were unable to buy or sell their homes, but while we are not opposed to giving homeowners and buyers additional support to get through this crisis, we have concerns about who will benefit most from the Bill.

Last week, we should have had a back-to-work Budget that targeted support at the sectors and jobs most affected by this terrible crisis, but we did not get one. Instead, we got scattergun giveaways that will not deliver for those who need it most—giveaways such as this Bill, which was frantically pulled together at the end of last week after more clumsy miscommunication at the highest level of Government.

Last week’s statement was another example of rhetoric over reality with this Government. It was cobbled together to get as many likes as possible, without due consideration for the long-term impact on the economy. It did nothing to target support to those who need it most during this difficult time. It did nothing for those who have so far been excluded from Government support during this crisis. Above all, it did nothing to address the Government’s failure to get an effective test and trace system in place so that people can feel confident leaving their homes and returning to some sort of normality.

As my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor put it so succinctly last week, families are not staying home because they are waiting for a tenner off a meal. They are staying home because they are still worried about coronavirus. We do not just need incentives; we need confidence.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Sitting suspended.