I must inform the House that the reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition has been selected, and I will call James Murray to move the reasoned amendment when he speaks in the debate.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In the face of challenging global headwinds, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered an autumn statement that was honest about the difficult decisions this Government will need to take to tackle the cost of living crisis and rebuild our economy. We are not alone in dealing with economic problems. One third of the global economy is forecast to be in recession this year or next. At the same time, while inflation is high in the United Kingdom, it is notably higher in Germany, at 11.6%, in Italy, at 12.6%, and in the Netherlands, at 16.8%.
It is our duty to curb rising prices, restore faith in our country’s economic credibility internationally and, ultimately, to deliver growth. The independent Bank of England is responsible for controlling inflation. However, as the Chancellor set out in the autumn statement, monetary and fiscal policy need to move in lockstep. That means, for the latter, taking a disciplined approach and giving the world confidence in our ability to pay our debts. We have been clear that we will be following two broad principles in this consolidation: first, we ask those with more to contribute more; and, secondly, we will avoid the tax rises that most damage growth. With just under half of the £55 billion consolidation coming from tax and just over half from spending, the autumn statement set out a balanced plan for stability.
Today, we are debating a small number of the tax measures that were announced last week. In order to provide certainty to markets and help stabilise the public finances, we are taking forward important tax measures in this focused autumn Finance Bill, ahead of a fuller spring Finance Bill, which will follow the Budget early next year as usual.
During the autumn statement, I raised the point about High Speed 2 with the Chancellor, and I also wrote to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and, indeed, to the Chair of the Treasury Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin). According to the Office for National Statistics yesterday, annual inflation in the infrastructure sector was 18.1% in September, which is 80% higher than the consumer prices index for the same month. How can the Government continue to bankroll phase 2 of the HS2 project at a cost of more than £40 billion when all the independent advice suggests that it will make rail services to the north-west worse than could be achieved with merely phase 1 and the Handsacre link? Could I also have a reply from the Chief Secretary to the letter I wrote to him?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and will of course check with the Chief Secretary’s office; my officials will have heard the point he makes and will ensure he receives a response. On inflation in infrastructure costs, obviously that will apply across the board and cannot in itself be a reason to reconsider such fundamental investment. There are strong views on this project; from the Government’s point of view, it creates thousands of jobs and apprenticeships and builds much greater connectivity. But of course, as the Chief Secretary himself has been clear—I am sure he will emphasise this in the letter to my hon. Friend—we need to see discipline on cost control whatever is happening to wider macroeconomic factors.
Turning to the substance of the Bill and the specific measures, I shall start with the energy profits levy. Since energy prices started to surge last year there have been calls for the Government to ensure that businesses that have made extraordinary profits during the rise in oil and gas prices contribute towards supporting households that are struggling with unprecedented cost of living pressures. This Bill takes steps to do exactly that by ensuring oil and gas companies experiencing extraordinary profits pay their fair share of tax. We are therefore taxing these higher profits, which are due not to changes in risk taking or innovation or efficiency, but as the specific result of surging global commodity prices driven in part by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
The measure increases the rate of the energy profits levy that was introduced in May by 10 percentage points to 35%. This will take effect from January next year, bringing the headline rate of tax for the sector to 75%, triple the rate of tax other companies will pay when the corporation tax rate increases to 25% from April next year or 30% for the largest companies. The Bill also extends the levy until 31 March 2028, but as the Government have made clear, it is important that such a tax does not deter investment at a time when shoring up the country’s energy security is vital.
I thank the Minister for outlining the detail on the energy profits levy. Does he agree that the measures he has announced will raise £52 billion over six years? Although in previous debates the Labour party has said that that does not go far enough, it is more than Labour’s proposed energy profits levy would raise.
My hon. Friend is extremely astute: he has noted the significant contribution these taxes will make to the Exchequer. As I have just said, although this generous allowance is to ensure that we still encourage investment at a time when energy security is critical and where the long-term solution is having secure energy in this country, he is right to highlight the revenue being raised. After all, it goes a long way to funding the support that our constituents are receiving. In fact, they are receiving it this very week: payments are going out to support people facing these very high energy bills. The energy support guarantee this winter will save a typical household £900. We are putting in place extensive support, and as my hon. Friend says, a significant amount of that revenue comes from this new tax.
Putin’s barbaric illegal invasion of Ukraine and the utilisation of energy as a weapon of war has made it clear that we must become more energy self-sufficient. That is why this Bill also ensures that the levy retains its investment allowance at the current value, allowing companies to continue claiming around £91 for every £100 of investment. This investment will support the economy and jobs while helping to protect the UK’s future energy security, and in future the Government will separately legislate to increase the tax relief available for investments which reduce carbon emissions when producing oil and gas, supporting the industry’s transition to lower-carbon oil and gas production. Together these measures will raise close to £20 billion more from the levy over the next six years. As my hon. Friend said, that brings total levy revenues to more than £40 billion over the same period—of course he added on top of that the electricity generators levy, which we will be consulting on. The Government are also taking forward measures to tax the extraordinary returns of electricity generators, as I have just said, but we will do so in a future Finance Bill to ensure that we can engage with industry on these important plans.
The autumn Finance Bill also introduces legislation to alter the rates of the R&D tax reliefs. Making those changes will help to reduce error and fraud in the system, ensuring that the taxpayer gets better value for money while continuing to support valuable research and development needed for long-term growth. Over the last 50 years, innovation has been responsible for about half of the UK’s productivity increases. That is an extremely important statistic. We all know the value of R&D to all of our constituencies—I look in particular at my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne), who will know of its importance in our university cities and all of our key clusters. R&D is a key way of raising productivity, which is why we have protected our entire research budget and will increase public funding for R&D to £20 billion by 2024-25 as part of our mission to make the United Kingdom a science superpower. These measures are significant, but ultimately businesses will need to invest more in R&D. The UK’s R&D tax reliefs have an important role to play in doing that.
The Government are absolutely right on this point. The objective of giving taxpayers’ money to companies for use through R&D tax credits is to focus on improving productivity. There were real concerns, particularly in the smaller business segment, that the scheme was not working correctly. One aspect of the scheme that caused some concern to small businesses was the time that it was taking for some credits to be paid out, but I think that is improving. Perhaps in summing up later, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury could point to what recent progress has been made on that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, he was in the Department and has a business background, so he knows the detail and the importance of R&D tax reliefs. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will have a chance to look at that later. I believe that we will be having a meeting about a separate issue of concern—a certain railway project that matters to him—when we can also discuss these points.
I turn to the specific detail. For expenditure on or after 1 April 2023, the research and development expenditure credit rate will increase from 13% to 20%. The small and medium-sized enterprise additional deduction will decrease from 130% to 86%, and the SME scheme credit rate will decrease from 14.5% to 10%. That reform will ensure that the taxpayer support is as effective as possible. It improves the competitiveness of the RDEC scheme and is a step towards a simplified RDEC-like scheme for all.
That means that Government support for the reliefs will continue to rise in cost to the Exchequer—from £6.6 billion in 2021 to more than £9 billion in 2027-28—but in a way that ensures value for money. To be clear, the R&D reliefs will support £60 billion of business R&D in 2027-28, which is a 60% increase from £40 billion in 2020-21. The Government will consult on the design of a single scheme and, ahead of the spring Budget, work with industry to understand whether further support is necessary for R&D-intensive SMEs without significant change to the overall cost.
It was indeed welcome to hear the Chancellor talking in the autumn statement about additional money for research and development, but what seemed to be lacking was investment in skills. He talked about skills only loosely, and actually there was not one mention of colleges. Will there be any additional money for colleges as a result of the Bill?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In raising education, I hope he will have noted and strongly welcomed the fact that, despite the tough fiscal situation, the Chancellor was able to find additional spending for education—indeed, £2.2 billion this year and next year for our schools. I hope he agrees that that is crucial.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise further education. We also announced in the statement that there will be a review by Michael Barber looking at the many positive initiatives that the Government have in place for training and increasing technical and vocational skills—T-levels, for example. We want to see maximum support for such schemes, so we will be reviewing them to ensure that we deliver them as effectively as possible. He makes an important point.
I turn to the measures on personal taxation. We know that difficult decisions are needed to ensure that the tax system supports strong public finances. To begin with, we are asking those with the broadest shoulders to carry the most weight. The Government are therefore reducing the threshold at which the 45p rate becomes payable from £150,000 to £125,140.
What consideration have the Government given to taxation of those who benefited during covid? The National Audit Office states that the Government invested £368 billion in the economy through furlough and various other pieces of support, but the people who received that money passed it on. Far from trickling down, the money has trickled up. During covid, the number of billionaires and millionaires increased to record levels in the UK. They have clearly benefited extraordinarily well from Government investment. Why are we not following the money?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I, for one, would never resent the fact that someone is successful in life, particularly because of starting a business, working hard, investing in this country and creating wealth. We should always celebrate that. He says, however, that the money and expenditure during covid did not trickle down. On the contrary, speaking from my experience out in my constituency, businesses still express to me their gratitude for the grants and loans, for the £400 billion of support that we put in place that helped to carry the country through the pandemic—
I will finish this point; the hon. Gentleman is welcome to come back at me on it. He will recall the estimates at the start of the pandemic that unemployment would be 2 million higher than it turned out to be. That is an entire depression’s-worth of unemployment that we saved through our measures, and he should be grateful.
I absolutely agree with everything that the Minister just said, but the truth is that the money paid to people in furlough and to small businesses was passed on. That money was used to repay loans, to pay rent and to pay the lease. People have paid their mortgages. The people who received that money at the end of the day were those who were already wealthy, as the figures show. We should follow the money. We should not squeeze those people until the pips squeak, but we should make them pay their fair share.
By any objective assessment, that enormous support helped our country through one of the toughest challenges that we have ever faced—the biggest crisis outside war in recent memory. We have, of course, moved straight into another one. Across the House, there is recognition that the £400 billion of extra support that we put in place has benefited the country.
The hon. Gentleman talks about business costs. Of course, businesses had costs that we had to help them with, but to protect public health, steps were taken to close parts of the economy. We faced an extraordinary contraction. To avoid that, the Government had to step in and, in so doing, we lost 2 million jobs fewer than were predicted to go.
Will the Minister give way?
Will the Minister give way?
If the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) will forgive me, we have some interest from another part of the House, so will I take an intervention from Wales, from the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards).
I am grateful to the Minister. I welcome the announcement in the Bill that reduces the additional rate level to £125,000. The calculations I have seen show that somebody earning £150,000 will pay about 1% more in income tax, so this is definitely a step in the right direction. However, somebody earning £1.5 million will pay only 0.1% more as a result of the proposals. Does that not make the case for a further band to be created for those earning very high wages? My understanding, if my history lessons were correct, is that the Thatcher Government, for instance, had a 60% rate.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting suggestion. He will not be surprised to hear that I do not announce new tax bands from the Dispatch Box on Second Reading of a Finance Bill. I can confirm, however, that those earning £150,000 or more will pay just over £1,200 more in tax every year. That is the precise figure.
For the final time, I give way to the hon. Member for Eltham.
Any Government would have given the support that the Government gave at that time, so I accept everything that the Minister said about that, but where is the money now? There has been £368 billion paid into the economy. Who has it now? Who benefited from it? Should we not follow that money and make those with the broadest shoulders contribute?
The furlough scheme, on its own, protected 11.5 million jobs. Does the hon. Gentleman seriously think that the Government should expand some extraordinary array of resource to find out what those 11.5 million people did with the money that kept them in work when they could have been looking at unemployment, and we could have been facing the most staggering economic depression in our history? We avoided that and, instead, we reduced unemployment by 2 million more than was expected. We avoided that cut in jobs, which would have been absolutely devastating for communities across the country, and we should all be grateful.
I have already given way to both my hon. Friends, but I will go to Bedfordshire.
That is certainly the best place the Minister can go. He is always welcome in North East Bedfordshire.
The Minister will remember that the additional rate of tax was introduced as a temporary measure by Gordon Brown. When the Conservatives came into government in coalition in 2010, we looked forward to its being scrapped—yet here we are today, proposing that more people on lower incomes, in nominal as well as real terms, be made to pay that additional rate of tax. With the basic allowance tapering off above £100,000, and with the introduction of this rate, does the Minister accept that people in this country who earn more than £100,000 now face effective tax rates of 60% or 50%?
As a Conservative who wants taxes to be lower, I do not stand here with any relish in putting forward a Finance Bill that will increase taxes. The Chancellor was very clear that we will have to pay more tax, but my hon. Friend understands the aggregate reason, I hope, which is the need for fiscal stability. The overall rate will have an impact of £1,200 a year, as I have said; I do not deny that it will be significantly impactful for our constituents. We want to cut taxes if we can, but before we do so we have to get on top of inflation.
I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes).
I thank the Minister for giving way. It is a good job I can remember what I was about to say.
The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) asked where the money has gone. The support that the Government have given has kept a lot of small businesses in business, as I know he recognises. Does the Minister agree that the money actually went to the medium-sized businesses that keep people in our constituencies employed and on the payroll? That is where the money went, thanks to the actions of this Government. Opposition Members should not pooh-pooh those actions, because they kept businesses going and people in work.
My hon. Friend is an absolute champion of small businesses and of businesses of all sizes in his constituency. We and our colleagues believe in free enterprise. We knew that the pandemic was an extraordinary situation in which, to keep businesses and free enterprise going, we had to step in an extraordinary way and be a force for maintaining aggregate demand and expenditure. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What did those businesses do by staying in business? They maintained employment in our communities and maintained the services that they provide. We should all be proud of the extraordinary effort that was made.
We have announced a reduction in the dividend allowance from £2,000 to £1,000 from April 2023 and to £500 from April 2024, as well as a reduction in the capital gains tax annual exempt amount from £12,300 to £6,000 from April 2023 and to £3,000 from April 2024. We have also announced that we are abolishing the annual uprating of the AEA with the consumer prices index and are fixing the CGT reporting proceeds limit at £50,000. The current high value of these allowances can mean that those with investment income and capital gains receive considerably more of their income tax-free than those with, for example, employment income only. Our approach makes the system fairer by bringing the treatment of investment income and capital gains closer in line with that of earned income, while still ensuring that individuals are not taxed on low levels of income or capital gains. Although the allowance will be reduced, individuals who receive a high proportion of their income via dividends will still benefit from lower rates of 8.75%, 33.75% and 39.35% for basic, higher and additional rate taxpayers respectively. These two measures will raise £1.2 billion a year from April 2025.
We are maintaining the income tax personal allowance and the higher rate threshold at their current levels for longer than was previously planned. They will remain at £12,570 and £50,270 respectively for a further two years, until April 2028. This policy will have an impact on many of us, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), but no one’s current pay packet will reduce as a result. By April 2028, the personal allowance, at £12,570, will still be more than £2,000 higher than if we had uprated it by inflation every financial year since 2010-11.
I reiterate that these are not the kinds of decisions that any Government want to take, but they are decisions that a responsible Government facing these challenges must take. I remind the House that this Government raised the personal allowance by more than 40% in real terms since 2010, and that this year we implemented the largest ever increase to a personal tax starting threshold for national insurance contributions, meaning that they are some of the most generous personal tax allowances in the OECD. Changing the system to reduce the value of personal tax thresholds and allowances supports strong public finances. Even after these changes, as things stand, we will still have the most generous set of core tax-free personal allowances of any G7 country.
Let me now turn to the subject of inheritance tax. As we announced in the autumn statement, the thresholds will continue at current levels in 2026-27 and 2027-28, two more years than previously announced. As a result, the nil-rate band will continue at £325,000, the residence nil-rate band will continue at £175,000, and the residence nil-rate band taper will continue to start at £2 million. That means that qualifying estates will still be able to pass on up to £500,000 tax-free, and the estates of surviving spouses and civil partners will still be able to pass on up to £1 million tax-free because any unused nil-rate bands are transferable. Current forecasts indicate that only 6% of estates are expected to have a liability in 2022-23, and that is forecast to rise to only 6.6% in 2027-28. In making changes to personal tax thresholds and allowances, the Government recognise that we are asking everyone to contribute more towards sustainable public finances, but—importantly—we are doing this in a fair way.
I am almost there, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I will be assisted by an electric vehicle, because I am now moving on to that method of transport. Earlier this month I attended COP27, where I met international finance Ministry counterparts and reaffirmed the Treasury’s commitment to international action on net zero and climate-resilient development. The Government welcome the fact that the transition to electric vehicles continues apace, with the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasting that half of all new vehicles will be electric by 2025. Therefore, to ensure that all motorists start to make a fairer tax contribution, we have decided that from April 2025, electric cars, vans and motorcycles will no longer be exempt from vehicle excise duty. The motoring tax system will continue to provide generous incentives to support electric vehicle uptake, so the Government will maintain favourable first-year VED rates for electric vehicles, and will legislate for generous company car tax rates for electric vehicles and low-emission vehicles until 2027-28.
These are difficult times, but that does not mean we will shy away from difficult decisions; it means we must confront them head-on. Today the Government are tacking forward specific tax measures in this Bill to help stabilise the public finances and provide certainty for markets. This is an important part of the Government’s broader commitments made in the autumn statement on fiscal sustainability, ensuring that we take a responsible approach to fiscal policy, tackling the scourge of inflation and working hand in hand with the independent Bank of England.
We will do this fairly; we will give a safety net to our most vulnerable, we will invest for future generations, and we will ensure that we grow the economy and improve the lives of people in every part of the United Kingdom. The measures in this autumn Finance Bill are a key part of those plans, and I therefore commend it to the House.
I call the shadow Minister.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
“this House declines to give a second reading to the Finance Bill because, notwithstanding the importance of increasing the energy (oil and gas) profits levy, it raises taxes on working people through its freeze of the personal allowance threshold; because it fails to take advantage of other sources of revenue, such as ending non-domiciled tax status and further reducing the tax allowances available to oil and gas companies; and because it derives from an Autumn Statement which fails to set out plans to arrest the 7 per cent fall in average living standards forecast over the next two years, and to grow the UK economy, including through replacing business rates, supporting start-ups, giving businesses the flexibility they need to upskill their workforce, investing in clean and renewable energy, insulating homes across the country, and creating jobs in the green industries of the future.”
After 12 years of economic failure from the Conservatives and 12 weeks of economic chaos, we now have this Finance Bill from a party that is holding Britain back. It is a Bill from a party that has, of course, lost any claim that it might once have tried to lay to economic competence; but more than that, it is a Bill that shows a party making the wrong choices time and again, and a party with no plan to grow our economy and halt the decline in living standards.
As people across the country know, the Conservatives’ economic failure is hitting households hard. We are living through the longest period of earnings stagnation for 150 years, with real wages lower this year than when the Tories came to power in 2010. Living standards are forecast to fall by 7% over the next two years—the biggest fall on record, taking incomes down to 2013 levels. No wonder the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies described the forecast drop in disposable income as “simply staggering”. This will truly feel like a lost decade for people across the United Kingdom: a decade of low growth, with incomes now set to fall back to where they were a decade ago.
I know that Conservative Members are desperate to make out that global factors are entirely to blame for the economic reality of today, but although no one denies the deep impact of covid and of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, it is simply not credible—and it is frankly insulting—to pretend that the occupants of Downing Street, now and over the past 12 years, have had nothing to do with the mess that we face. It was decisions taken by the Conservatives in office that left us uniquely exposed to the inflationary shock of oil and gas prices rising—they took misguided and damaging decisions to shut down our gas storage, to stall on nuclear power and to ban renewable technologies such as onshore wind—and it was decisions taken by the Conservatives in office that have denied the UK the opportunity to grow our economy over the past 12 years as we could and should have done.
Will the hon. Gentleman please check his facts? If he looks at the period from 2010 to just before the covid pandemic and compares the UK’s average rate of growth with that of our OECD competitors, particularly the G7, he will find that the UK outstrips all of them bar the United States and Germany.
I seem to be engaging more with the hon. Gentleman now that he is on the Back Benches than when he was briefly on the Front Bench. If he looks at the statistics, he will see that, over the last 12 years, the UK’s growth rate has been a third lower than the OECD average, and a third lower than it was during the previous Labour years. I will take no lessons from him or his colleagues on the need for economic growth.
I take this opportunity to give the previous Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), some rare credit. At least he took responsibility for the mess he inherited from his colleagues when he confirmed that our economy is stuck in a “vicious cycle of stagnation.” On that point, he was absolutely right.
Over the Conservatives’ 12 years in power, as I said to the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller), the UK economy grew a third less than the OECD average and a third less than during the previous Labour years. What is more, we are now the only G7 economy that is still smaller than before the pandemic. Over the next two years, we are forecast to have the highest inflation in the G7 and the worst economic growth of any country in the G20 except Russia.
What is more, we are the only country in the G7 whose governing party chose to inflict profound damage on its own economy. Although the Prime Minister and the Chancellor refuse to take responsibility, the British people can see through them and will hold them to account. What the British people want and need is a Government who will get on and do the right thing without having to be pushed, dragged and forced into doing so. That is one reason why people across the country have been so exasperated by the Government’s reluctance at every turn to implement a windfall tax on oil and gas producers’ huge profits this year.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) first called on the Government to bring in a windfall tax in January. It took five months of pushing the Government along a painful journey to get them to act. In those months, Conservative Ministers tried to defend their position, saying that oil and gas producers were struggling. They said a windfall tax would be “un-Conservative”, and the current Prime Minister said it would be “silly” to use this money to offer people help with their energy bills. Conservative MPs voted against a windfall tax three times, and then, when they finally realised their position was untenable, they did a U-turn.
Even then, having been dragged kicking and screaming into introducing a windfall tax, the current Prime Minister coupled it with a massive tax break for the oil and gas giants. This tax break will be given to the oil and gas giants for doing the things they were going to do anyway, which helps to explain why some of them have paid zero windfall tax in the UK this year, despite record global profits.
Despite having another go at windfall tax legislation with this Bill, the massive tax break is still there. It is set at a level that will, to quote the explanatory notes,
“maintain the overall cumulative value of relief”.
This tax break leaves billions of pounds on the table. These profits—the windfalls of war—could go towards helping people facing the difficult months ahead. This tax break is set to cost the taxpayer £80 billion over five years. This tax break was brought in by decisions that this Prime Minister took when he was Chancellor, and it is staying thanks to the decisions of the Chancellor he appointed from No. 10. What clearer evidence could there be that, no matter which Conservative goes through the revolving door of Downing Street, it is all more of the same?
All we get from the Conservatives is the same vicious cycle of stagnation. This doom loop has been dragging wages down, forcing taxes up and hitting public services, all of which come round again and keep economic growth low.
I agree with many of the hon. Gentleman’s points. Much of the narrative around the autumn statement and the Budget is about restoring market credibility after the implosion of the previous Administration. In reality, the one thing we could do to restore market credibility is to have a more sensible trading relationship with the European Union. There is no hope from the Government, but will the Labour party offer us that hope?
Later in my speech I will talk about our plan for growth, which will involve fixing the holes in the Brexit deal with which the Conservatives left the European Union. Alongside other measures, it is important to make sure that the deal has a proper plan for growth that is sorely lacking from this Government.
This Finance Bill is a bill in more ways than one, because as well as being legislation, it represents a bill landing on working people’s doormats. It is a bill that working people are being forced to pay for the Government’s failure. Working people are paying for the Tories’ decisions that, for the last 12 years, have held back the economy, and for the last 12 weeks have crashed it.
This Bill freezes the income tax personal allowance, which will leave an average earner paying over £500 more income tax a year by 2027-28. In the autumn statement, the Government announced a council tax bombshell that will force a £100 tax rise on families in the average band D house from next April. As a result of all the tax measures announced in this Parliament, middle-income households will see their tax bill rise by £1,400. That is what it looks like when working people are made to pay the price.
It is all the more galling for people to be asked to pay more when the Conservatives are so slapdash with public money. Today, new figures show that the current Prime Minister wasted a staggering £6.7 billion on covid payments to businesses and individuals that were fraudulent or mistakes. Despite wasting public money so carelessly, he is now happy to put up taxes on working people across the country.
It could have been different had the Government made fairer choices. The Government could have chosen to close the unfair private equity loophole that gives hedge fund managers a tax break on their bonuses. They could have chosen to reverse their tax cut for banks. Perhaps they have forgotten what their position is, having voted for the cut at the start of the year, before U-turning on it a few months ago and then, more recently, U-turning again.
The Government could have finally chosen to scrap non-dom tax status, an outdated and unfair tax break that costs the taxpayer £3.2 billion a year. A tax break for non-doms should have no place in the UK in 2022. As if evidence were needed that this tax break belongs in a different era, the law makes it clear that people can inherit non-dom status only from their father, unless their parents were unmarried. More fundamentally, this loophole ignores the principle of fairness that should be at the heart of our tax system. If a person makes Britain their home, they should pay their taxes here.
There are theories going around about why the Government are so reluctant to modernise the tax system and abolish the non-dom tax break. Perhaps the Minister will be able to confirm at the end of the debate, or in writing afterwards, whether the Prime Minister has been consulted on the option of abolishing non-dom tax status. Perhaps he can confirm whether the option was ever considered. When the current Prime Minister was Chancellor, did he recuse himself from discussions on this matter? I see the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury acknowledging my request, so I look forward to his response either later today or in due course.
We know that the Conservatives’ choices on tax are deeply unfair, but we also know that the lack of economic growth is the deep root of the rising tax burden in the UK. Over the last 12 years, the UK economy has grown a third less than the OECD average and a third less than during the previous Labour years. We are now the only G7 economy that is still smaller than it was before the pandemic, and over the next two years we are forecast to have the lowest growth of any country in the G20 bar Russia.
A plan for growth has been missing for a decade, and its absence is having a greater impact than ever. In its report this month, the OBR confirmed that measures announced at the autumn statement will make no difference to growth in the medium term. The CBI’s director general, Tony Danker, put it starkly following the autumn statement:
“There was really nothing there that tells us that the economy is going to avoid another decade of low productivity and low growth”.
We cannot afford another decade like the last. We cannot afford another decade of being held back, another decade of lost growth. That is why Labour’s plan is so crucial to raising wages and living standards, supporting and sustaining public services and driving business investment and job creation in the decade ahead.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, in stark contrast to what we have heard from the Conservative party. It is about people, working people and building back better. Does he agree that, for the people, particularly young people, who lost out so much during covid and are now facing another decade of low growth, we are particularly disappointed about the lack of support for further education and colleges to support the skills agenda for both 16 to 18-year-olds and adults who desperately need retraining and skills? That is starkly absent from what we have heard from this Government.
I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. She is a great advocate for investment in skills training and making sure that young people have opportunities in the decade ahead, which they have been denied in the last decade under this Conservative Government. The points she makes fit well within a wider plan for growth, which is at the heart of what Labour Members are proposing and pushing the Government to adopt.
That plan is wide ranging. It covers business rates being replaced with a fairer system that makes sure that high street businesses no longer have one hand tied behind their back. It relies on us implementing a modern industrial strategy to support an active partnership of government working hand in hand with businesses to succeed. Labour’s start-up reforms will help to make Britain the best place to start and grow a new business. Small businesses will benefit from our action on late payments and we will give businesses the flexibility they need to upskill their workforce. As I mentioned, we will fix holes in the Brexit deal so our businesses can export more abroad. Crucially, our green prosperity plan will create jobs across the country, from the plumbers and builders needed to insulate homes, to engineers and operators for nuclear and wind. We will invest in the industries of the future and the skills people need to be part of them. That is what a plan for growth should look like. As John Allan, the chair of Tesco, said recently, when it comes to growth, Labour are the
“only…team on the field.”
The truth is that the need for an effective plan for growth has exposed the emptiness and exhaustion of the Conservative party. All we have to show from 12 years of Cameron, May and Johnson is chronic economic stagnation.
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he should not refer to existing colleagues by name.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. All we have to show from those three former Conservative Prime Ministers in the last 12 years is chronic economic stagnation. This autumn, the Conservatives tried desperately to make their economic strategy work, but their decisions crashed the economy, imposed a Tory mortgage premium, put pensions in peril and trashed our reputation around the world. Now they are trying again. We face tax hikes on working people, the biggest drop in living standards on record and growth still languishing at the bottom of the league. It seems that Conservative MPs are beginning to realise they have come to the end of the road and their time is up. In a timely echo of the popular TV show, hon. Members from Bishop Auckland to South West Devon are declaring: “I’m a Tory, get me out of here.” It seems the Conservative party is finally beginning to realise what the rest of us already know: the Tories are out of time and out of ideas, and Britain would be better off if they were out of office.
Our amendment makes it clear that, although Ministers have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into action on oil and gas giants’ windfall tax, this Finance Bill fundamentally fails the UK economy and comes from a Government holding the British people back. Be in no doubt: the mess we are in is the result of 12 years of Conservative economic failure. With this Bill, they are loading the cost of their failure on to working people. The Government still have no plan to grow the economy and to stop the fall in living standards that is filling people across the country with dread. We need a Government with a plan to get our economy out of this doom loop, to support businesses to grow and to raise living standards again. We simply cannot afford another decade of the Conservatives. Now is time for change, now is the time for them to get out of the way, now is the time to let Britain succeed.
It is a pleasure to speak so early in the debate. It is also a great pleasure to have a Finance Bill that is so short. I must have spoken on a dozen of them in my time in Parliament and to have one that has only 12 clauses is some sort of miracle. During this week, we have probably about as much time as we normally have for one of several hundred pages, so we can really scrutinise the 11 substantive clauses. Perhaps that is progress, compared with what we normally expect.
I start by comparing this Finance Bill with ones we had at the start of the previous recession a decade and a half ago and ones we had at the start of previous measures to tackle a large budget deficit. If I recall rightly, the single biggest measure we had 14 years ago was a VAT reduction at the start of the recession, which cost something like £15 billion. I am not sure it had the effect we wanted. Interestingly, as we sadly slip into a recession, which we hope is shorter and shallower than that one, what we have not seen in this Finance Bill is any attempt to boost consumer confidence. We can argue that we tried that in September and it did not go so well, and probably the right thing here is to focus on how we reassure the markets that we can keep borrowing under control and therefore not risk a rise in interest rates.
However, if this recession looks like it might be any longer or deeper than the Government’s forecasts, I urge them to think carefully about how we get consumer confidence to turn around. I fear that what we will see in the new year is a big retrenchment in people’s personal spending. We will spend the money for Christmas because we have to, but people will then take a very cautious approach in the early part of next year, knowing that energy bills will go up in April and that tax changes are around the corner. We would not want them to go too far and retrench too fast. So I hope the Government will think about the role that tax can play in turning the economy around if we need that next year.
The other interesting comparison is with the approach George Osborne took in his Budgets in the first half of the last decade to introduce austerity to tackle the big public deficit we had. Let us look at what he prioritised. He had a VAT increase, which we are rightly not doing in this situation, but he increased the personal allowance and reduced corporation tax to try to put more money into people’s pockets from work and to encourage business investment in the UK. Interestingly, the Government are doing the complete opposite now. I am not sure whether we have worked out that that plan did not work, but there is evidence to suggest that the lower corporation tax rates we had for a decade did not achieve the additional investment that we wanted them to and we are probably better off sticking at about 25% than going lower.
I am slightly intrigued. The great claim we made was that we were taking people out of the scope of income tax. We are now at great risk of putting them all back into the scope of it again. I accept the Minister’s point that the personal allowance by the end of this five-year period will still be £2,000 higher than it would have been by inflation, but I think that is not enough of an increase. I hope that the Government regard these personal allowance freezes for another five years to be a kind of last resort and if we get any improvement in the economic outlook they can be reversed. Especially at the lower end of the level, keeping people out of tax, letting them keep more of the income and making sure that work pays are strong arguments. Frankly, I am not absolutely sure why we need to legislate for personal allowances in five years’ time. We will have another five Finance Bills before we get to those and we could have brought those into law at any point. I accept that we want to give the market a clear steer that we are serious about closing the budget deficit. If we need those measures, fine, they are probably less bad than a rate increase, but what is the point of legislating for them in this situation?
There is another contrast with what we have done on national insurance this year. We chose to—and I accepted the argument that we needed to—increase the headline rate of NI, but the compensation for that, when it became clear that that was a real problem at the start of the economic downturn, was to increase the personal allowance for NI—the starting point at which someone pays that tax. Yet now, rather than increasing the headline rate, we are effectively holding back the starting points of those taxes. So we have a tax on income and a tax on wages where we are taking one approach, and on the other tax we are doing something completely different.
As we go forward from what I accept are emergency measures that we need to use to fill a hole, the Government need to have a clear strategy for what our tax system should look like. They should consider the things we are trying to tax and the things we are trying to incentivise. They should try to give people some long-term stability so that they can plan and understand and we can get the behavioural changes and incentives that we want, rather than having a clear direction one way, and then doing a U-turn and wondering why people do not do the things that we would really like them to do. Now we are through the real firefighting, I hope the Government can produce a strategy and plan for where they think the tax system should go, so that people can understand it and respond accordingly. I think that that is what we had under the Gauke doctrine in 2010. We need to revisit that, now we seem to have changed our mind on so many of those things.
The bleakest bit of news in this Finance Bill was extending the windfall tax to 2028. I was hoping that the energy crisis might be over quite a bit before then and we would not need to have those measures in place. The fact we have done that suggests we are not expecting energy prices to come back down any time soon. Clearly, the windfall tax is the right thing to do. I have always taken the view that this is a level of profit that nobody could ever have thought they could get. These companies are earning it from extracting our natural resources; they are not their natural resources. We have given them permission to extract them, and they have rightly made some profit from doing so. However, we should limit that profit and accept that those are our resources and that we should take the right return from them, rather than the exploiter doing so, so I hugely welcome the introduction of the windfall tax.
I am quite intrigued by the research and development stuff. It is right, even at the most difficult time, to say that we want to make sure that we are incentivising R&D. That is a sensible, long-term measure that shows some long-term planning. I remember being at work as a young accountant when R&D tax credits were introduced—in 2000 for small companies and in 2002 for large companies. The journey they have been on, with rates going up and down and approaches changing—above the line, below the line, cash incentives and all those things—makes me wonder whether, 22 years on, we are really sure that R&D tax credits are delivering the outcome that we want. I suspect that the speeches in the Finance Bill debates in 2000 were that these measures would make us a science superpower in the next generation. I think that we are still giving those speeches, and we have not quite got the superpower bit. I wonder whether the Government should stop at some point and ask whether those are working. I know that there is an ongoing review on combining the reliefs, but are they triggering the right thing?
One piece of data that did worry me was that a disproportionate amount of those are claimed by companies in London and the south-east and they are not spread around the country in the way we would like. Is there a way we can use these tax measures to encourage that kind of investment and those kinds of skilled jobs in the regions of the UK, and not just focus them in the most prosperous parts?
I have expressed the view previously to many Treasury Ministers that, outside the EU, the one thing that we can do is take a regional approach to certain taxation to encourage activity in different parts of the country that we do not need to encourage in London and the south-east. I urge the Treasury to look seriously at whether we could take a regional approach to some taxes so that we can get those differentiating incentives to move wealth outside London and the south-east. That would fit entirely with our levelling-up agenda, but we have not chosen yet to be that creative with our tax system.
Given that we have plenty of time for detailed questions on clauses on Wednesday, I will just say that I accept the need for this Finance Bill. I will support all the measures in it and I will happily vote for it later. I will not be voting for the Opposition amendment, which I suspect will not come as a great shock. I think I support ending non-dom status, but we should have temporary residence relief. If somebody comes here on a secondment or for a short period, we should not try to force them to move all their tax affairs here. We should tax them on the income that they earn here. There would be a big disincentive and it would be out of step with other countries if we did not have a short period where somebody had that different situation to reflect the fact that they are not ordinarily resident here.
The fact is that a person’s non-dom status depends on where their father was born. In theory, they can become a non-dom even if they have lived here all their life and never been resident anywhere else in the world. That shows how ludicrous those rules are. I urge the Government to look at modernising all our residence tests, including that on non-dom status. They are all far too complicated. We could have a far more effective system that works better and would achieve the advantages of attracting investment here. There is a real problem with just scrapping non-dom status; it may drive some people we do want here to leave. On balance, a change is better and we should continue with the direction of travel that we had a decade ago of restricting the time period. I think that we could restrict it with a more modern relief that would achieve what we want without having the big downsides.
With that, I will happily support the Bill and oppose the amendment if there is a Division later.
I call the SNP spokesperson.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), who gave a characteristically thoughtful speech. How strange it is that we agree on so many things in this debate, and yet on so few other things. It would be nice if those on the Government Front Bench listened to some of the considered and sensible remarks from their colleagues.
This Finance Bill really does illustrate that we are all having to pay more tax, because of the very misguided steps taken by the former Prime Minister and her Chancellor, who crashed the economy in 26 minutes, leaving us all £30 billion worse off. That will have an impact on this broken UK economy not just now, but for many years to come.
Let me start with the energy profits levy. That additional tax on UK oil and gas profits will increase from 25% to 35% from 1 January 2023. As the hon. Member for Amber Valley observed, this is being extended until March 2028, which illustrates the extent of the mess into which the UK Government and their Chancellors have got themselves.
We think that the Government should go in a slightly different direction. They should look beyond just a levy on energy profits. They might want to look at a windfall tax that includes share buybacks as well. That is something that Biden has done in the United States. That has had the effect of bringing more money into the American Treasury’s coffers—Canada is also doing this—and encouraging firms to put more money into research and development, into investing in their companies and into investing in the UK, rather than spending all their excess profits on share buybacks, That seems like an entirely sensible thing to do, given the state of the UK economy. This year, BP has earmarked £7.15 billion to buy back its own shares. The Treasury should look at what more can be done here.
The reduction in the investment allowance is to be welcomed, but that it exists at all remains a barrier to decarbonisation. The allowance creates a perverse incentive for companies to favour new oil and gas exploration over renewables by effectively offering them a tax break for doing so. Shell paid zero windfall tax under the previous scheme, as it invested heavily in oil and drilling instead of filing profits to be taxed against. That is hardly worth a candle compared with the net zero commitments that the Government tried to make at COP26 last year.
We are also concerned about the decision to impose a 45% tax on electricity generators as that can then undermine investment into renewables at the same time as allowing oil and gas companies to drill more. The chief operating officer of SSE has said that the company may have to “give up” on some of its plans when the tax comes into effect. He said:
“It’s going to take money away from us…and we won’t have as much to invest.”
The CEO of Renewable UK also said:
“Any new tax should have focused on large, unexpected windfalls right across the energy sector, instead profits at fossil fuel plants are inexplicably exempted from the levy.”
Scotland has a significant renewables sector. It has been a great success story. Anything that makes that sector less profitable and more uncertain is something that we are deeply worried about.
The ordinary rate of income tax is now frozen until April 2028. Significant stealth taxes are coming in, as the Treasury stands to raise considerable revenue due to inflation. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that this could raise £30 billion by 2026 due to high inflation rates. It is unacceptable for this money to be raised by taxing those already struggling with spiralling living costs. Of the many options available to the Chancellor, it would have been better to tip the balance more in favour of those who can afford to contribute more, by which I mean greater taxes on wealth and income made from wealth, and also taxes on the non-doms, which could bring in £3.2 billion to the Treasury’s coffers. It is unacceptable that the Treasury would turn down the chance to bring in £3.2 billion and instead choose to freeze the thresholds, so that people on lower and middle incomes will receive less in their pay packet each month.
AJ Bell has found that if allowances are frozen rather than linked to inflation, an average earner on a salary of £33,000 in 2021-22, before the income tax threshold freeze began, will end up paying £2,600 more in income tax if the policy is extended to 2027-28. Someone on £50,000 will pay an additional £6,570 in tax because the allowances are frozen rather than being linked to inflation. I ask Ministers to consider the fairness of those measures.
Moving on to the research and development expenditure tax credit rate, the scheme has provided tax reliefs to companies subject to corporation tax that carry out eligible R&D activities. I appreciate what has been said about the efficacy of R&D tax credits and whether they are useful. I hope that topic will receive more consideration in the months and years ahead, because the UK tax code is full of different types of credits, tax breaks and incentives—or disincentives—and we need to properly understand how effective they are.
Small and medium-sized enterprises provide around three fifths of the UK’s private sector jobs and have historically been drivers of innovation and growth. They are a significant part of solving the UK’s productivity puzzle. SMEs are less likely than larger companies to have access to formal credits to fund R&D, and in the wake of the pandemic and with recession forecast across the next year, it is more important than ever that SMEs are supported in driving growth and investing in research and development.
It is quite perplexing the Chancellor has prioritised R&D in larger firms, which are more likely to invest their profits elsewhere or perhaps invest them in share buybacks further down the road. The Chancellor has said that the aim is to reduce fraud, but reducing the R&D expenditure credit for all SMEs in an attempt to prevent its being abused seems a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is quite poor targeting to affect all SMEs rather than just those that might be abusing the system.
The Federation of Small Businesses has said that the cut to R&D tax credits, which the Government presented as a way of tackling fraud, would “crush innovation and growth”, creating a “doom loop” that
“makes a mockery of plans for growth.”
The Minister should listen carefully to the FSB when it raises such concerns.
The current situation is quite worrying and will have significant impacts on the Scottish budget. The Fraser of Allander Institute has said:
“The lack of any real ability on the part of the Scottish government to be able to flex its budget within year in response to unanticipated shocks remains a real limitation of the existing fiscal settlement…a strong case can be made for enhancing the Scottish government’s ability to borrow and/or draw down resources from its Reserve.”
It concludes that
“this level of inflexibility does not seem tenable.”
The Scottish Government face a £1.7 billion shortfall this year as a result of inflationary pressures, and that is just this year’s budget. John Swinney has gone back and tried to strip out anything he can from the Scottish budget to try and deal with the problem, but that shortfall remains. The Chancellor’s answer to that was £1.5 billion in Barnett consequentials over the next two years—nothing for this in-year shortfall and half of what we need across two years. That is not going to fix the pressures that the Scottish Government face. It is not going to fix the significant issues with pay deals that trade unions are legitimately asking for in Scotland to support their members. If the UK Government does not come up with that money, it will cause extreme difficulties for the Scottish Government’s ability to meet their expectations of what they want to do.
What we are seeing from the UK Government is something of a doom loop. The OECD says that the UK will contract more than any other G7 country and that, of the G20, only Russia will fare worse than the UK. We see stagnant growth and no plans to get the economy back on track. The Chancellor and the Government want to bring forward plans to try to cut their way out of recession. That will not work. As the hon. Member for Amber Valley pointed out, consumers see that, and it affects both consumer and business confidence. Unless we hear a lot more about investment rather than cuts, this Government are going to sink the economy and take Scotland down with them.
Thank you for calling me so early in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker—presumably the answer is that you are saving the worst for first.
I rise to speak in favour of the Bill because in it we have the outlines of the clear steps necessary to ensure a solid financial footing and the path to growth in the medium term. I congratulate both of the Ministers on the Front Bench, my hon. Friends the Members for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) and for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who are friends of mine. I am delighted to see them in their place, and I know they will take their roles seriously and deliver that much-needed economic growth.
We have to remember the context in which we find ourselves and this Bill: not just the £400 billion that we have spent on support for businesses and people during the covid pandemic, but the terrible situation we see in Ukraine. Those are the reasons why the nation finds itself in this situation today, as do many nations across the globe. I think the Minister said that one third of the world economy will be in recession over the next year, and that includes the United Kingdom. We need to set out that context and those reasons why we have to take the tough, difficult but fair decisions outlined in the Bill.
I remain convinced that the actions taken last week in the autumn statement and in this Bill put us on a path to growth and to a stable financial footing. I think that is what the public expect. When I go into my constituency every week and speak to people, they now want—dare I say it—boring leadership. They want us to have a stable and sound economic plan for the future, meaning that in the end they will have more money in their pockets and will know what this Government stand for. This Bill, the Minister and the Chancellor last week have all outlined that very clearly. As I say, that is what the public expect. They expect to be treated in a fair way, and this Bill outlines that fair way, with an equal base of spending cuts and tax rises.
I want to focus on some specific things in the Bill that we can achieve because of the tax measures that we are outlining, and what they will deliver. Because of this Bill, the most vulnerable in society will be protected. The announcements made in this Bill and the autumn statement mean that welfare and social security will rise in line with inflation and pensioners will be protected by maintaining the triple lock. That is incredibly important to the 19,500 pensioners in my Eastleigh constituency, as is the £300 they will get this year to support them with the rising cost of energy.
Particularly in areas such as Hampshire, we do not have particularly cash-rich pensioners; they may live in quite large houses in my constituency, but that does not mean they are cash rich. They have invested and saved and they have lived responsible lives. They are people who have paid into the system and deserve to get some stuff out of the system. That is why I am delighted that the Government are protecting the triple lock and have announced that extra support to pensioners, going some way to reassure them as they go through some of the challenges that we all face over the next year or so. We have also seen, through this Bill and the measures that the Minister has outlined, a total of £12 billion of support for the most vulnerable in our society. I am proud that the Conservative principle of protecting the most vulnerable is in full force.
Added to that is the £7 billion being spent on health services. I am sorry to see the Labour party this evening speaking against a Government measure that will see unprecedented amounts of investment going into our national health service as we come out of the covid pandemic and with the backlogs we have. I never thought I would see the day when Labour Members would stand up in this Chamber and argue against record amounts of investment in the national health service, but they have done so. I hope their constituents will see that when they watch this speech—or when they watch this debate. They will not be watching this speech, but they might watch the debate.
Crucially, we have also outlined £4 billion-worth of investment in our schools. When I went round my constituency during the covid pandemic, many students had missed out on vital schooling. The Government helped with that by putting in place measures such as remote learning, but we have to put in that investment to ensure that those students—often in some of the most deprived areas of my constituency, which does have areas of deprivation—are brought back up to the expected attainment levels.
Again, I am sorry that Members across this House—not on the Conservative side; or not yet, anyway—have again spoken against measures that would see record amounts of investment in our public services. Over the next two years, there will be £11 billion more for schools and the NHS. We will tackle the post-covid backlog and deliver for the future of this country by bringing in measures that we so desperately need after the shock that our economy has gone through in the past few years. The Chancellor has firmly set out the actions necessary for reducing inflation. The Minister has—ably, if I may say so—outlined the measures that the Chancellor has taken. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray), who I have a lot of time for—I used to work with him when he was London’s Deputy Mayor for Housing—refused to accept, or at least did not put the necessary emphasis on, the fact that the international crisis we are in has caused many countries and many of our neighbours to go through the same issues we are going through.
The Chancellor has outlined measures to bring down inflation, including the £6 billion-worth of investment in capital spending for businesses, which is crucial. I do not expect you to remember this, Madam Deputy Speaker, but you were in the Chair when I made my maiden speech about the crucial investment needed in infrastructure across the United Kingdom. Investing in infrastructure across the United Kingdom means employing people, keeping businesses in work and bringing inflationary pressure down. That is why I am so pleased that the Chancellor outlined that last week, along with the measures in the Bill. The Government are protecting R&D spending and providing £14 billion of relief for small businesses by cutting the rates of tax that they have to pay.
Labour criticised the lack of inclusion of the Office for Budget Responsibility in the financial measures that were taken a few months ago. The Government have now included an OBR outlook, which states that 1% will be added to our GDP over the next year. Now, Labour suddenly wants to say that the OBR is very important. I agree, but Labour cannot have it both ways by pooh-poohing the OBR’s findings—that this Budget will help to grow our GDP—and then not necessarily taking its advice as read as we go forward.
Overall, the Bill is hard for now and takes some really tricky decisions, but I am convinced that it will deliver a stable economic outlook for everybody. I will go into a bit more detail on the measures that will reduce inflation. The Bill is split equally between tax rises and spending cuts. We are protecting and maintaining public spending for the next two years at the level set out in 2021, and then increasing spending by 1% in real terms every year until 2027-28. We have invested in our NHS and schools, which is, as I have said, important for the attainment and health outcomes of my Eastleigh constituents.
In the difficult measures that we will go through over the next few months, we are, vitally, protecting people from the shock of their living costs and energy bills going up. That is the most crucial thing: this Government have stepped in. The Labour party might not want to recognise that billions of pounds were spent during the covid pandemic. That has to be paid back at some stage, but we are now spending billions of pounds to protect people from the shock of energy bills.
I say again that I have a lot of respect for the shadow Minister, but I will not take lectures from him when he says that we are not taking the necessary action on nuclear or energy planning. It was his party that pre-emptively scrapped nuclear energy as an option for this country, which is partly why we are in the situation we find ourselves in today. I think he should go back and possibly rewrite his speech, and then come back and outline that his party is partly responsible for the crisis we are in.
I know that Ministers will not have been immune to hearing the press and some colleagues saying that the Bill, and some of the measures that have been outlined this evening, are not Conservative enough. Despite what many colleagues on my side of the Chamber may think, I am a fiscal Conservative, but I have to disagree with some of those assertions. In the Chancellor’s statement and in the Bill, we have framed the narrative on four things that I think are important: protecting the vulnerable, investing in public services, fairness in the tax system and delivering growth in the economy.
Standing here today, I am 100% fine with the measures outlined by this Conservative Government, because they are asking people with the broadest shoulders to pay the most, on a temporary basis, while we look after the most vulnerable in our society and target support during a troublesome time on people who genuinely need our help. If that means I am not a Conservative—I do not think it does, because the Budget and the measures are based on solid conservative principles—I am quite happy with that, but I think that this is a Conservative approach and one that we should be all proud of.
As is usual in these debates, we have opposition from the Labour party. In my seat, I often contest Liberal Democrats, but there are no Lib Dem Members here to outline their lack of plan for the cost of living crisis—but there we go. I am massively in favour of what is set out in the Bill. I am grateful to the Minister for outlining the measures that he has taken, because I know that, over the medium term, we will have growth back in the economy and people will see and be grateful for the Government’s actions.
Contrary to what we have heard, the Bill is not about growth. It goes nowhere near what is needed. It is not fair, and it is not just.
The median annual pay per person in my Leicester East constituency is, at £20,300, the lowest in the country according to the latest figures from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which were published in April 2022. The national average for the same period was £31,461, meaning that the people of Leicester East are lagging £11,000 behind the national average, and are losing a third of their income to inequality. People in Leicester East are also paid less than the comparable figure for the east midlands region, which was £24,700. Child poverty in my constituency runs at a horrific 42%, perpetuating and deepening the disadvantages that our children already face. Furthermore, people in constituencies such as mine face a life expectancy 10 years shorter than that of the better-off.
Ordinary people in this country are already struggling after a decade of ideological cuts and conscious cruelty by successive Conservative Governments. Now, their situation is being compounded. The reality is that we face the longest recession ever, coupled with skyrocketing costs of living. That crisis is driven by corporate greed and Government mismanagement, through which the biggest burdens—rampant inflation, soaring interest rates and public spending cuts—are placed on the shoulders of those least able to carry them.
I do not think “cruelty” and “malice” are too strong a set of words for what is being done. What else should we call it when this Government have hunted for ways to make workers and communities pay for the so-called cost of living crisis, instead of getting the billionaires and millionaires, who have flourished and profited during the crisis, to pay up? The mere existence and normalisation of billionaires and millionaires in society and high office shows a broken political and economic system that can never work for everyone in society.
In my Leicester East constituency, people are no longer able to make choices between eating or heating. That choice is no longer meaningful because they are destitute and relying on food banks and warm banks. They need help right now. In communities such as mine the lowest-paid workers are being punished by this Conservative Government. Workers are turning up to Victorian sweatshops and being sent home without work or pay, having been denied their rights. Their contracts are not worth the paper they are written on. My community has been at the epicentre of wage exploitation for decades. There is nothing in this Finance Bill to address that.
The local authority in Leicester is already on its knees. It is still recovering from 12 years of austerity, which saw central Government grant funding cut from £289 million in 2010 to £171 million in 2019, with the shortfall in the current financial year expected to be around £50 million. The council has long since closed all its youth clubs, meaning that not only the people working in public services but the people using them suffer.
The Finance Bill does nothing to address the fact that, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Chancellor’s autumn statement means that household disposable income will fall by a further 7%. The Chancellor claims that his mission is to sort out the cost of living crisis, but in reality the Finance Bill is turning the screw on many of the poorest and most vulnerable. Wealth is not meaningfully taxed and fortunes are simply left sitting around idle, enabling a class of people who never have to work for a living to live off interest, rents and dividends now and for the next 1,000 years, while the poorest go under.
This is not a plan for growth. The Office for Budget Responsibility does not forecast any growth for at least another half a decade. It predicts that the autumn statement will deliver economic stagnation, not growth. That means that, under this Government, wages and investment will suffer. In reality, the Chancellor has announced austerity 2.0, with real-terms cuts to public spending, cuts to international aid and cuts to capital spending on infrastructure—[Interruption.] Yes, cuts to capital spending on infrastructure. He is also freezing the threshold for paying income tax and national insurance. Thus, the Finance Bill increases taxes for people on low incomes, whose wages are already falling in real terms. This is a stealth tax in all but name, but the Chancellor has barely even bothered to disguise that fact.
The autumn statement is austerity, and the Finance Bill is its delivery tool. It will cause substantial hardship and lengthen the recession, while protecting the wealth of the 1% and allowing corporations to get away with massive profits. At the same time, working people and the vulnerable will suffer.
Uprating pensions and benefits by 10.1% in line with inflation for the first time since 2016, but not backdating that change, just scratches the surface and will not protect struggling families. The standard out-of-work benefit is now worth just 13% of the average weekly wage. The UK state pension lags far behind the average EU pension and is worth just a quarter of earnings, compared with 63% for the average EU pension.
Where is the equality impact statement that should have been published alongside this Finance Bill or the autumn statement? That would have made clear the impact on low-income households and those from African, Asian, Caribbean and other racialised groups, as well as on women and disabled people.
The autumn statement and this Finance Bill do nothing to address precarious and insecure work, zero-hours contracts, in-work poverty, high childcare costs or the rising cost of travel to work. The Government chose to force workers to meet work coaches to increase their hours or earnings, instead of tackling exploitative and scrupulous bosses, bringing rail and other public transport back into public ownership and ensuring that childcare is made affordable.
Private rents are growing at their fastest rate. Families are being driven out and made homeless as landlords pursue ever higher rents and for less space. The autumn statement and the Finance Bill could have offered a ban on evictions and a freeze on rent increases. Instead they do nothing for the millions in privately rented accommodation.
Meanwhile, fossil fuel firms can avoid paying most of any windfall tax by offsetting their investments in more oil and gas drilling. The Finance Bill is meaningless if we continue to subsidise and rely on fossil fuels. We need public ownership of energy to protect jobs, minimise prices and deliver a green, clean and sustainable future.
The effects of the autumn statement have rightly been compared to boiling a frog slowly. However, in Leicester East and places with similar levels of deprivation, the water started deeper and hotter, and the Chancellor has lit a big fire. According to the United Nations, all of this could easily have been avoided.
We need to see problems tackled at their root. We need public ownership of energy, transport and other vital services to keep costs under control and to ensure that profits are invested in improving those services and the fabric of our society. A complete reversal of cuts to local authority budgets is essential. Councils were long ago past the point where they could cope and maintain even essential services at the levels needed.
The Chancellor needs to think again about his plans and about his evident lack of concern or compassion for those who are going under because of the political and ideological choices that Governments have made. We must challenge and change this unjust and unfair economic system, not just put a sticking plaster over it. We need a society that cares for all so that no one is left behind. We cannot be happy that the annual median income in my constituency is £20,300. The Finance Bill fails on all counts.
It is a pleasure to be called so early in the debate. At the outset, I want to put on record Darlington’s thanks for the £250 million that came to us during covid.
In the autumn statement, we saw increased spending on education, health and social care; the largest ever increase in the living wage, to £10.42, putting us within pennies of our ambition to reach £10.50 in this Parliament; the triple lock guaranteed for pensioners; virtually all benefits, and the benefits cap, increased in line with inflation; and support for those struggling to meet energy costs. The autumn statement and the Bill continue our commitment to deliver for those on the lowest income.
We all know that these are challenging times. We also know that inflation makes us all poorer. However, the challenges of inflation, energy prices and interest rates can all be tracked back to Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. I know the Chancellor has had to make some difficult decisions, but I believe that he has been fair and done much to restore economic stability, while continuing to invest in vital services and infrastructure.
Prior to being elected to this place I was an employer running a small business, and I know that businesses will warmly welcome the news in the autumn statement, particularly those on our high streets facing a much needed reduction in rateable value, and therefore a lower rates bill. That reduction would ordinarily be phased in over three years, so the fact that they will receive the benefit immediately is welcome indeed. That is something that I have been pushing for and that I was delighted to see. In addition, the current 50% discount available to hospitality and retail businesses will now be increased to a 75% reduction, with no impact on income for our local authorities. The Government really are on the side of small businesses.
When the Chancellor comes to visit the Darlington economic campus, where my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was working from on Friday—just as my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury did last week—I look forward to taking him to see some of our amazing local businesses, such Origins Home, Leggs Fashion and The Art Shop, and the transformation taking place in the Darlington yards thanks to investment from the towns fund.
We all know that talent and ability are spread throughout the country, but opportunities have not been. The north-east has lagged behind for too long, under Governments of all colours, but this Government’s ambitious levelling-up agenda is already paying dividends to communities such as mine in Darlington. As such, I welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to infrastructure spending, with continued support for key infrastructure projects, and the protection of the £1.7 billion levelling-up fund. I am keeping my fingers crossed for the forthcoming announcement on levelling-up fund round 2, to which Darlington has submitted an excellent bid.
In Darlington we are already ticking boxes on levelling up: £139 million at Bank Top station, delivering three extra platforms and improving regional connectivity; £35 million invested in our rail heritage quarter, delivering on our commitment to heritage and driving more visitors to Darlington; and £23.3 million invested in our town centre, seeing real change in the High Row yards, Northgate and Victoria Road. I could also point to investment in green technology at Cummins and investment in life sciences, so key to our vaccine success, at the Centre for Process Innovation, together with investment in Darlington College. It would be remiss of me to not mention the fantastic job opportunities afforded to local people through the creation of the northern economic campus, ensuring that people in Darlington can stay local but go far.
Darlington said goodbye to its Labour council in 2019, ending a 28-year period of decline, and it is now going from strength to strength with the Conservatives at the helm, working hand in hand with our Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen. However, the Chancellor knows that my council, the third smallest unitary in the country, faces economic challenges because of a funding formula that disadvantages areas like mine. That is long overdue for reform, and I hope that he will pay that issue close attention. I know that the Exchequer Secretary is making notes, so I hope he is listening too as he works on local government settlements.
The cost of living support payments that have been distributed by the Government over the course of the last year and into this year have already totalled in excess of £39 million for the people of Darlington, and the announcements in the autumn statement amount to a further £18 million for them. At its heart, the autumn statement set out a compassionate plan, meeting the real challenges faced by our public services and the fears of people facing increased energy costs, and continues our commitment to our ambitious levelling-up agenda, including delivering real improvements on business rates for the nation’s high streets. This Finance Bill is good for the country and good for the people of Darlington.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson).
We have heard a great deal about the recent Budget—the last couple of Budgets, I suppose—and where we find ourselves, but we are not just talking about the events of recent weeks or what could be described as global headwinds. We have to understand what has been going on in the wider landscape—the energy price shocks suffered globally, the supply chain shortages and the rising global interest rates—but beyond what could be described as global factors, we have specificities: the factors that set the UK apart from other nations.
I take on board a lot of the comments that have been from the Government Benches, but as the Institute for Fiscal Studies put it, it is clear that the UK is in a much worse position because of its economic own goals. We could talk about the impact of the bodged Brexit deal, which economic forecasters have shown has impacted our growth figure by 4.5%, or the shocking, catastrophic kamikaze Budget of 23 September, but we have suffered a decade of anaemic growth and now we are set for even weaker growth.
As has been said, of course the pandemic impacted on our economic situation, as it has across the world—we need only look at what is happening in China right now and what will be happening to Chinese GDP as a result of all the measures there. However, we face even weaker growth than others. We will have the weakest growth out of all the major economic nations of the G7, and over the next two years we will have the lowest growth out of all 39 nations in the OECD, other than sanction-ridden Russia. In fact, the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts that over the forecast period growth is set to average just 1.4%, compared to an average of 2.7% that we enjoyed over 13 years under the last Labour Government.
Last week, in its “Economic and fiscal outlook” report, the OBR confirmed that the autumn statement measures added nothing to growth in the medium term. Real wages are lower now than they were when the party opposite entered power in 2010. That is the harsh reality of what we are talking about. We can talk about all sorts of statistics in the abstract, but people will know just how hard this is already hurting and how hard it is going to get. I do not know whether any of us will be able to recall this, but the last time we had such a 12-year period of wage stagnation was back in the Napoleonic wars, which is a pretty damning indictment.
This has real impacts for everybody in our society, and I will set out a few markers. My constituents, along with people across the country, will see a staggering 7% real-terms reduction in their income over the next two years, leaving the average worker £40 worse off. To give a different perspective, the Resolution Foundation said that compared with trends seen when Labour was in government, people will be £15,000 worse off, coupled with sky-high inflation that disproportionately falls on poorer households, as the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) said. While food inflation has increased by 14% across the board, certain basic staple products have increased by as much as 60%, as I can see in the shops in my constituency of Warwick and Leamington.
Businesses are also suffering. I appreciate that measures have been put in place, but the lack of business rate support is a glaring omission by this Government. One of the things that should be concerning them the most is the lack of business investment and the OBR forecast that we will now see business investment growing by 6.7% less over the coming years. That must give all of us concern for our long-term economic growth.
Something else that should concern us is what has happened to the FTSE 100. Okay, it is just a bellwether indicator, but it is now smaller than the CAC 40 in Paris—the first time that Britain’s stock market has lost its position as the most highly valued in Europe. When we look back to 2016, we see the significant reversal of fortune: London was worth about $1.4 trillion more than Paris.
Ten days ago, there was a political choice in respect of the Budget: stealth taxes on working people, or a fairer tax system. I fear that the Chancellor has gone in too hard on hard-working people when it comes to footing the bill. He claimed to be fair, but he has not been. The recent Bank of England monetary policy report spoke of the impact of UK-specific factors on borrowing costs. The Financial Times estimates at just under £17 billion the real-terms spending increase in the mini-Budget due to the increase in the gilt rate. This economic crisis was made in Downing Street and its cost is being put on the shoulders of working people: the tax burden is the highest since world war two.
The Prime Minister’s decision to give oil and gas giants such large untargeted tax breaks has been surprising. It will cost the taxpayer £8 billion over the next five years. He and his Chancellor could have closed the tax loopholes, introduced VAT on private schools, tightened the energy profits levy, abolished non-dom status, launched a massive, much needed investment in skills and support for SMEs, and turned the UK into a green superpower. What we have instead are stealth taxes, which will take us backwards. I accept and agree with some of points made about corporation tax, particularly those of the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills). We saw a dreadful experiment under George Osborne that actually yielded very little for the UK but lost us a lot of tax take.
Under clause 6, there are changes to income tax, and the concern is how those will affect a lot of earners across the UK. What analysis has been done on the upper decile, or the top 2% of taxpayers? How does the impact on them compare with that on the lowest decile of earners?
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on electric vehicles, I have a particular concern about clause 10, although I make these comments personally. The introduction of vehicle excise duty for zero-emission vehicles risks stalling the entire electric vehicle industry. We have already taken away consumer support, apart from some support for business users; we are the only major nation in Europe that does not provide such support for electric vehicles. There could be a real challenge as a result of the vehicle excise duty supplement, which will unduly penalise more expensive vehicle technologies when we should be ensuring that the sector expands and is successful. If we are to meet our net zero obligations, we have to persuade the consumer to come with us and increase the uptake in new electric vehicles.
We needed a framework that would encourage consumers and businesses to buy electric vehicles and get the industry to invest in the infrastructure network of EV charging points. Like the industry, I am really concerned that the change will have a serious impact and that investment, including from vehicle manufacturers, will be lost.
Labour’s plan would be to reboot the economy, to create the frameworks for businesses to operate within, to scrap business rates and to replace the apprenticeship levy with a skills and growth fund. We need to invest in skills and further and higher education, particularly to address the matter of productivity; it is disappointing that we did not hear about that from the Minister. Productivity is one of the greatest challenges for the UK, yet we have heard far too little over the last 12 years about how that will be addressed.
I will not support Second Reading, although I will, of course, support the Labour amendment. The Bill raises taxes unfairly on working people and introduces what will essentially be a fiscal drag over the coming years. We should have started by going after the easy money—the tax status of non-doms and further reductions in the tax allowances available to oil and gas companies. We should have replaced business rates with something far more progressive that would help our local businesses and maintain and restore our town centres.
Since 2016, 1.2 million zero-carbon homes could have been built; it would have meant zero heating bills for 1.2 million families. Sadly, the legislation got scrapped in 2011—just think of the impact that would have had on our energy demand and the relative prosperity of those households. Instead, we have austerity. Under Obama, the US had the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009—and look at its trajectory since.
I am afraid that this Finance Bill has sold the UK public and UK businesses short. We have had 12 years and the last 12 weeks—far too long. We need a Labour Government.
The Government have made some tough but fair decisions to restore economic stability and tackle inflation. To achieve long-term, sustainable growth, we need to grip inflation, balance the books and get debt falling as a share of GDP. But even with the changes outlined in the autumn statement, which will take effect through this Finance Bill, the UK tax system remains competitive, with a lower tax burden than Germany’s, France’s and Italy’s and the lowest headline rate of corporation tax in the G7. Of course, the UK also has the lowest unemployment rate for almost 50 years.
The hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray) referred to the Office for Budget Responsibility, which expects the package to reduce peak inflation and unemployment. It also notes that GDP will be 1% higher due to these measures. The Bank of England expects the package to help tackle inflation and keep interest rates lower for borrowers and mortgage holders. All that is vital to ensure sustained public service support and investment in the years ahead, and it is on those two issues that I would like to focus my comments briefly this afternoon.
On public services, the Chancellor’s proposals will increase taxpayer funding for the NHS and schools by an extra £11 billion over the next two years. Looking in more detail, the additional £7.7 billion for health and social care in the next two years means that, despite the challenging economic circumstances, the Government are providing £2 billion to £3 billion in additional funding for the NHS in each of the next two years to bring down ambulance waiting times, tackle the covid backlog and improve access to GPs. The Chancellor is also providing £2.8 billion next year and £4.7 billion the year after for adult social care, which will double the number of people leaving hospitals on time and into care by 2024, addressing unmet needs and boosting low pay in the sector. I call that a compassionate series of policies.
I am pleased that the chief executive of NHS England has said that the extra funding that the Chancellor is making available for the NHS is
“sufficient funding for the NHS to fulfil its key priorities”
“shows the government has been serious about its commitment to prioritise the NHS.”
The £4 billion in additional funding for schools will increase the schools budget by £2 billion this year and £2 billion next year. That will mean that the Government have fulfilled their pledge to restore per-pupil funding to record levels, with real-terms per-pupil funding rising at least to 2010 levels, which is more than Labour has pledged to give schools.
The Chancellor’s proposals maintain public capital investment at record levels, delivering more than £600 billion of investment over the next five years. Contrary to the remarks by the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe), the Government remain committed to key national infrastructure projects, such as high-speed rail, Northern Powerhouse Rail and Sizewell C. I am pleased that the £1.7 billion levelling-up fund is protected, particularly as I have seen in my own constituency of Clwyd South the unfolding benefits of our successful £13.3 million levelling-up fund bid; it is benefiting numerous projects along the Dee valley.
The Finance Bill also ensures that research and development funding is protected and reformed. It reconfirms the Government’s ambitions on research and innovation by recommitting to increasing publicly funded research and development to £20 billion by 2024-25.
Does my hon. Friend agree that every pound invested in the private sector in research and development returns 25% back every year forever, and that every pound spent by the Government on research and development is met by a 20% increase in research and development in the private sector? Does he agree that this is a down payment on high-paid jobs and growth for the future?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Indeed, it goes to the point made by the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) about productivity. It is through such investments in research and development and supporting major capital projects that we can drive up productivity over the coming years.
As a Welsh MP, I am particularly keen to strengthen the Union of the United Kingdom, and I welcome the £3.4 billion of additional funding for the devolved nations. There is an extra £1.5 billion for Scotland, £1.2 billion for Wales and £650 million for the Northern Ireland Executive. I am also pleased to see that the Government have announced funding for the feasibility study for the A75 in Scotland, the advanced technology research centre in Wales and a global trade and investment event in Northern Ireland. Making sure that the whole United Kingdom can grow and increase its productivity is a central theme of this Finance Bill and the autumn statement.
In conclusion, the Bill has my full support. It shows that we do not have to choose between a strong economy or good public services—with a Conservative Government, you get both.
We have Schrödinger’s Finance Bill. For a while, there was no Finance Bill. Then yes, there was going to be one. Then, no, there was not going to be one. Now, finally, we have come to the decision that the cat is alive and the Finance Bill is here before us.
I am old enough to remember Philip Hammond standing up and being very clear that there would only be one fiscal event in a year, that we would move to having an autumn statement and that would be the fiscal event, and that the spring statement would only be a statement and an update. I would be the first to admit that this year has gone somewhat wrong, so there are some excuses for having a different scenario this year, but I am keen to know what the intention is. Do the Government intend to have one major fiscal event a year, or are they planning to have more than one? If we are going to have a spring statement next year that will, presumably, from what was said earlier, have a Finance Bill attached, will we also be having one in the autumn next year? Will we have an additional one in September that will crash the economy? One would hope not. It would be good to know what the plans are.
We heard from the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western), in quite a lot of detail, comparisons of the UK’s economy and economic state with that of many other countries. He laid out the figures nicely, which saves me from doing the same thing; I will not repeat what he said. What he said makes it clear that there is a unique issue here. Something is happening in the UK that is not happening in other places, apart from Russia, where there are sanctions, and it is understandable that the Russian economy is not in the best of states. What could possibly be happening to the UK economy? What is it—what uniquely is happening?
I keep wondering what has happened to this Brexit bonus. If our economy is so much better as a result of Brexit—if that has massively helped our economy, and many Brexiteers have made it clear over many years how much of a good thing it would be for the UK economy —can the House imagine the state we would be in if Brexit had not happened? Can the House imagine how dreadful things would be if we had not seen this Brexit bonus, which has still left us somehow, unexplainably, in a worse economic condition than has happened with other countries? I am baffled by this scenario.
We have been hit by a major number of issues. It is absolutely the case that the war in Europe—Putin’s illegal invasion—has had a major impact, and it has also had a major impact on other economies across the EU and the world. It has had an impact not just on energy prices, but on the price of food, for example. All those countries are seeing prices increase, yet none of them is struggling with growth in the way that the UK seems to be. None of them is seeing the level of recession predicted for here, and it is entirely down to Brexit and the decision-making processes of this UK Government. It is also down to the choices made earlier this year, which failed to take into account the scenario we are in. They failed to listen to the situation facing our constituents.
It is all well and good for Government Members to stand up in the Chamber and talk about the importance of growth—I will not for one second deny that growth is important, but if growth means that rich people get richer and people in Aberdeen and our constituencies still cannot afford to buy rice and pasta, that growth is not worth it. It is not worth it to see people get unimaginable amounts of money. Some £29 million in profits from personal protective equipment is an unbelievable amount of money for somebody or a family to get. Most of my constituents and most people across the UK will never see anything like that money in their entire lifetimes, yet it seems to be acceptable to the Government—while the fact that my constituents and people in Aberdeen, across Scotland and across the UK cannot afford to pay for the very barest of necessities is not remarked upon, is not mentioned and does not seem to be happening.
The Conservative Government keep talking about how much they care about vulnerable people—it has been mentioned a number of times—but that is not borne out and it is not what is happening on the ground. People’s lives are not being improved as a result of the decisions being made by those on the Government Benches. We are not seeing people better able to afford their energy bills; their energy bills are still significantly more than they were this time last year. The benefit cap still needs to grow massively to keep pace with its 2013 levels. The childcare allowance included within universal credit is at the same level it was when it was first introduced, when universal credit first started. It has never been increased. These are decisions that could be made that would make a difference to my constituents’ lives on a daily basis, but they are not being made.
We will not get our way out of this with innovative jam. That is not how it will work. We need to ensure that those who need it most—the people who can afford the increases least—are the ones being targeted by Government support and receiving the funding to help them to afford the basic necessities: food, clothing for their children and energy to get them through this winter. That is why the decision-making processes of the Scottish Government have been the way that they have.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) pointed out, the UK Government have talked about the additional money from Barnett consequentials, but that does not assist people this year, because of the constraints on the Scottish Parliament’s budget and because of the decisions taken by the UK Government. It will not help us to work on our second child poverty action plan, which we are now in the process of doing. We have put tackling child poverty at the forefront of what we are doing in Scotland. The eligibility of the Scottish child payment increased again the week before last, so more children in more families can get it than ever before.
We in the Scottish Government are targeting our support there, because that is where we feel that we need to make the most difference. We need to ensure that children are not living in poverty or in cold homes that their parents cannot afford to heat. We need the UK Government to step up, and not in an empty way by saying that there is an extra £1.5 billion—I do not know—in Barnett consequentials over two years, because that is not helpful. We need the money now—my constituents need the money now—to afford to get through the winter.
Another thing that has been mentioned is that hon. Members regularly use the term “hard-working people”, which is one of my biggest bugbears. When Conservative Members talk about hard-working people, they are talking about people earning £40,000 or £50,000 a year; they are not talking about people working in minimum-wage jobs. When they say that hard-working people have to pay higher taxes in Scotland than the rest of the UK, they are failing to recognise that we have an additional lower-rate tax band that means that people on the lowest incomes pay less in Scotland, and they are denying that people on the lowest incomes are hard-working people. It is the case, however, that a significant proportion of people on universal credit are in work. Just because someone is in receipt of social security does not mean that they are not hard working or that they are less deserving than people earning an awful lot of money from dividend incomes or other sorts of unearned income.
Stats came out earlier this year about the level of sanctions on people receiving universal credit, which said that there had been a monthly increase in the total amount of reductions being levied—money taken back from individuals who are claiming universal credit. Right now, the Department for Work and Pensions should not be trying to increase the amount of money that it is clawing back from people in receipt of universal credit.
We already have the issue that, when the DWP decides to make debt reductions from people’s universal credit payments, it does that not on the basis of whether those receiving universal credit can afford it, but on the basis of an arbitrary 25% threshold. As a result of DWP actions and the failures of the UK Government, we will have a situation where people cannot afford to heat their homes or feed their children purely because of the reductions that are being made to their income.
I have harped on about immigration several times. A number of years ago—I am a veteran of many Finance Bills—the former Chancellor George Osborne stood up and spoke about public sector net debt. In fact, his Red Book that year talked about it specifically and made it clear that an increase in net migration to the UK reduces public sector net debt. By trying to do everything they can to reduce immigration, therefore, the UK Government increase public sector net debt.
The UK Government could decide that one of the best ways to do something about the lack of growth and the amount of debt, about which they are concerned, would be to encourage people to come and live here, and to make that easier. Instead, my constituent is going to move away from the UK because he cannot get a visitor visa for his family to come and visit, so he is fed up and has had enough. As a software engineer, he is somebody who we need to have and whom we should be encouraging to stay; we should not be as obstructive as possible in our decisions.
The UK Government have also failed to tackle—in fact, they have gone out of their way to oppose—our climate change ambitions and targets in this Finance Bill. We are looking at issues in relation to electric cars, as was mentioned earlier, and allowances for oil and gas companies to extract more oil and gas, rather than the allowances that could be given to companies to develop renewable electricity. The electricity generator levy is also being levied on people who are producing renewable energy, which is the kind of energy that we need. We cannot talk about COP only once a year when it is COP26 or COP27—it should be threaded through every single decision that we make.
We have heard about R&D credits and tax reliefs, which I do not have a problem with in principle, although I am concerned that we need to see whether they work. I do have a problem, however, with how decisions are made to give people R&D tax credits. When the UK Government created the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, why did they refuse point blank any amendments that would have put tackling climate change at the heart of its decisions? We said that it should be climate neutral and that the Government could lead the way with a brand-new Government agency working on a net zero basis, but they refused. We said that they could convince or ask it to focus on innovations and inventions that tackle climate change, but they refused to do that, too.
We need to see an actual effort made—actual things done and decisions taken—to ensure that we tackle climate change and meet our net zero ambitions. If we could meet our net zero ambitions even earlier than we have proposed, that would be the best thing for the planet, rather than trying to push things until the last possible moment. We cannot just ignore climate change and pretend that it is not happening—it is!—so it should be in every Government statement, and the Government should talk about the effect on climate change of every spend that they decide to make. The decisions in the Finance Bill take us backwards rather than forwards.
The Scottish Government are supporting a just transition in Scotland with £500 million of funding to ensure that we move away from the reliance on fossil fuels that we absolutely have in the UK, particularly in Aberdeen, where there are a huge number of jobs in oil and gas. We need to support a transition that is just and fair for my constituents and for people across the UK. We need to ensure that people in oil and gas are given, or have the opportunity to move into, high-earning jobs in the new industries of the future that do not cause an increase in climate change.
Austerity has been levied on the poorest people for years. Conservative Governments have consistently made decisions at the expense of our worst-off constituents. I have never been less optimistic about the future for the poorest people in the UK than now—not even through the Brexit process and decision-making. The Government have shown no willingness to understand the genuine dire straits that people are living in, to take action on that, and to prioritise the most vulnerable people—not just to say it, but to actually do it—by looking at the universal credit system and the decision-making process to ensure that people can afford rice and pasta, and to heat their homes. How is it that we have to be asking that in 2022? How is it that we have to be living in a situation where the next generation are currently set to be poorer than our generation? We have that lack of optimism, and this Conservative Government continue to hammer that home, rather than attempting in any way to make it better.
That outlines very clearly the difference between the two Governments. The difference is that the Scottish Government are doing everything they can, with their very limited powers and limited ability to do anything in-year with their budgets, to try to make life better for those struggling the most, and this UK Government are continuing to refuse to do so.
On the point that has just been made that those of us on the Conservative Benches have some kind of income threshold in mind when we talk about hard-working people, I can assure the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), who made the comment, that that certainly is not the case for me. When I think about hard-working people and hard-working constituents in my patch, I recognise that some of those on the lowest incomes are among the hardest working. They make the decision to get up in the morning, scrape the ice off their windscreen and go to work because they think that is the right thing to do, so that certainly is not my view, and I do not think it is the view of many of my colleagues either.
On the point about Brexit, I think it is beyond the debate in this place, in that we have had Brexit and then afterwards we have had the pandemic and the biggest war in mainland Europe since the second world war. The reality is that it will be a long time before we can truly assess whether Brexit was the right thing to do and come to a conclusion. Coming to a conclusion two to three years after it has been delivered, given that we have just come through a pandemic and we are grappling with the biggest war in mainland Europe since the end of the second world war, is quite childish and not the right thing to do.
I spoke last week about the fiscal statement, and I welcomed many of the measures. I welcomed the fact that universal credit has gone up in line with inflation, I welcomed the protection of the triple lock, and I welcomed the fact that the national living wage is going up. I also spoke about the international context in which this debate is happening, and the fact that when we look around the world, particularly at comparable countries, we see countries that are all grappling with levels of inflation that those countries have not seen for many decades. That is something we have to bear in mind, but at the same time I think we have to be open and honest about some of the mistakes that were made by the previous Administration.
However, it is high time that the Opposition started dealing with what is in front of us, and by what is in front of us I mean the statement that was delivered only a few weeks ago. More often than not, I hear the Opposition engaging with the previous Administration, not the current Administration. The longer this current Administration get going with their package of reform, the harder that will be for the Opposition to do, because the current Prime Minister was of course the one who predicted many of the negative consequences of what the previous Administration did. When it comes to economic credibility, I say that the Prime Minister, in lockstep with the Chancellor, has by far and away the highest capital when it comes to these issues.
I want to talk about two issues that I did not really talk about last week to do with the Finance Bill. The first is education. I do think it was an achievement: the Government had to make some incredibly difficult decisions to get our public finances on a surer footing, but, even despite that, they were able to bring forward £2 billion of extra funding in education for schools. This is something that I care passionately about. I would, however, say that I have been contacted by Suffolk New College, the principal further education college in Ipswich, which does fantastic work that not just our local area but the country will rely on to equip local people with the skills necessary to make a success of Sizewell C and also of the freeport at Felixstowe and Harwich. I would like to bring forward its request that the further education sector is considered for any potential underspend in the school system between the years 16 and 18. It is right that the Government highlight the importance of skills, apprenticeships and further education. Of course, we have an Education Secretary who was an apprentice herself, and I am confident that the Government will bring forward, in time, solutions to the way in which we fund our further education sector. I made a promise to Viv from Suffolk New College that I would make that point in this speech today, and I have just done so.
I have spoken constantly since I was elected about the importance of special educational needs. I have also spoken about the fact that there are ways in which we can improve special educational needs provision, and it does not all involve more money and more spending. I have come up with ways in which that can happen by reforming the way Ofsted assesses schools, so that it is always an incentive for schools to prioritise first-rate special educational needs and disabilities provision, but a lot of it is to do with resources.
Only recently, I was in the constituency of the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge). He allowed me to step foot in his constituency. There is a part of his constituency that is essentially Ipswich—he is incredibly lucky to have a little bit of Ipswich in his constituency—and he allowed me to step foot in a very special school called the Bridge School. I went there to see a community café that has been opened by the Bridge School, and the whole purpose of that café is to increase the opportunities for the pupils at that school to interact with members of the community to build their confidence and their ability to integrate and play a positive role within their community.
I went into the school afterwards, and I saw some fantastic best practice in supporting some of the most vulnerable young people. For example, it has an indoor swimming pool, and I saw the way that that was used. The reality is, though, that all of this costs money, and some of the most powerful interventions for the main special educational needs cost money. My argument would be that this is an investment; it is always an investment. Utilising the talent and the ability of young people with very special needs—neurodiverse thinkers—is an investment. When we look at some of the depressing statistics when it comes to how many people in the criminal justice system have special educational needs because they have not got the support they need, we know that investment is morally the right thing to do, but it is also the right thing to do from the point of view of the Exchequer. I would also say that at some point I would like to look at the way that Suffolk SEND in particular is funded, because I still think that, when we are compared to other areas, we do not get a fair deal in SEND funding.
Secondly, I would like to talk about devolution. The Suffolk devolution package was announced as part of the fiscal statement, which has confirmed £480 million over a 30-year period. I think this is really good news, and what I quite like about the Suffolk devolution package is that it will not be creating a new tier of bureaucracy. I have intimate or a lot of experience of mayoral combined authorities—I worked at a mayoral combined authority in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough —and I have to say that the structure in place is not working. I think that plonking a new level of bureaucracy on top of an existing local government structure created unnecessary tensions, and having a way of delivering devolution that does not create another tier of bureaucracy, but actually devolves power and funding directly into the existing county council, is the right thing to do. It will save the Exchequer money, it will lead to better and more streamlined decision making, and it will avoid some of tensions and the conflicts that have come about as result of the devolution in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, so I welcome that.
I also welcome a key aspect: the devolution of the adult education budget. Adult education often does not get the attention it deserves in the educational sphere. I saw the way adult education was devolved in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, when decision making was put into the hands of local politicians and local specialists, and the difference that can make. Money was directed into the areas where it could make the biggest difference, and I saw the transformative effect that that was having in the most deprived parts of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
I think it is important, when we talk about the fiscal statement, that Suffolk was at the heart of it, and it was at the heart of it because of Sizewell C, which could potentially bring forward 10,000 new jobs. So we in Suffolk need the Government’s help to ensure we can step up for our education sector to get the high-skill people necessary to make a success of Sizewell C, which will have huge implications at national level. There is an opportunity therefore, and it is almost uncanny that we have the news about Sizewell C while at the same time we have the devolution of skills associated with Suffolk devolution, because by devolving those budgets and powers we are better able to deliver for the country the skills we need to make a success of Sizewell C.
My final point on devolution is that, even with the steps we have made on devolution over the last decade or so, we remain one of the most centralised democracies in the world. Not all my colleagues are supporters of devolution, but I am; I think there is something to be said for the American expression, “Laboratories of democracy”. To have proper devolution, we must have an element of fiscal devolution; I know some in the Treasury would be cautious of this movement, but that should at some point be explored. Devolution can work, because ultimately it is about putting power closer to people, and in principle that is a good thing that no one can disagree with, but we need to do it in the right way.
I have gone on for far longer than I anticipated—11 minutes in total; a precedent was set before my speech. I welcome the fiscal statement and the Finance Bill, which represents a fair and compassionate approach and which, even in the most challenging times, finds a way to invest in education, and that will always have my support.
I was struck by a quote I read a while back of the head of the Institute for Public Policy Research centre for economic justice, as it sums up the problem we face as a country:
“There is a massive structural flaw in the economy that whatever the economic shock the wealthier get wealthier. If we’re going to get the whole economy into recovery, and leave no one and nowhere behind, we need to change this. Societies that are so unequal are bad for everyone and policymakers need to address this dangerous gap, or risk people losing trust in our economy and democracy.”
At the core of that problem is the way we treat wealth in our taxation system. In an earlier intervention on the Minister I mentioned that the National Audit Office says that the total the Government invested in the economy during covid was £368 billion, which is roughly equivalent to £5,600 per head. Whichever Government had been in office at the time would have done something similar; they would have introduced a furlough scheme and helped businesses. That happened under the last Labour Government when there were crises: we stepped in on foot and mouth and the banking crisis, so forms of assistance were put in place. I therefore accept the assistance that the Government put in place, and I am not arguing about it, but it is ridiculous for the Government to argue that that money was paid and is now in the bank accounts of the people who received money during furlough or of the businesses who received assistance. It was paid to those individuals and businesses and it was used, and it has therefore moved on in the economy. That is £368 billion that has gone into the economy, and my question is: where is it now?
Most analyses of what happened in covid that are worth reading find that the wealthiest did extremely well during covid, so my question to the Government—and I would ask this of any Government—is this: what do we do about that? These people were already wealthy and now they are getting even more wealthy, which will drive the inequality the Government themselves say they want to deal with through levelling up.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Is he, like me, thinking about all the people who wrongly profited from selling personal protective equipment to the Government and the lack of proper assessment of some of those offers of help and the lack of proper procurement processes being followed? Does he agree that many ordinary members of the public and NHS staff found that quite wrong?
My hon. Friend’s intervention speaks for itself and I absolutely agree; that is an example of where this Government go wrong by treating the wealthy differently from others.
During covid, the number of millionaires and billionaires grew; we have the highest number of billionaires ever in The Times rich list and their combined income during that period grew by one fifth. So we can clearly see that inequality has been turbocharged by the money the Government put into the economy. I do not criticise the Government for putting that money in, but I do ask: where is that money now, where are the people who have benefitted most from it, and should they not, with their broad shoulders, bear more of the burden?
We have consistently had low growth over the last 12 years under Conservative Governments. The Resolution Foundation’s recent report “Stagnation Nation?” found that in each decade from the 1970s real wages rose by an average of 33% until 2007, but that that fell to below zero in the 2010s. So today average household incomes are 16% lower in the UK than in Germany and 9% lower than in France, having been higher than both in 2007. Under the Conservatives there has been a consistent shift of wealth from average household incomes to the wealthiest in the country. The policies they have pursued have been driving inequality, and my point is that until we reform how the taxation system deals with wealth we will not address that growing divide between those at the bottom and those at the top. This Finance Bill completely fails to address that problem.
I could say so much about what we are debating today that I do not know if I can contain myself. I am fortunate that procedurally there is no time limit for Finance Bills, so I could speak for hours about the Government’s proposals, but I will be as circumspect as possible. We have heard some fantastic contributions, including from my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes); I assure him I listened to his speech and it was a fantastic contribution.
We have had the usual back and forth, with Labour playing the blame game while also failing to understand that when we spend £440 billion to keep the economy going—to keep people in work, to keep jobs, to keep people sustaining what they are doing—there is going to be a price to that, as there is from Putin’s illegal and aggressive invasion of Ukraine.
We are facing some of the most difficult economic circumstances ever, and it is right that our tax measures have made those with the broadest shoulders carry the largest burden, because they know that is vital to ensure the longer-term recovery of our economy. In doing that, we strike a balance between making sure those people carry that burden and ensuring that the most vulnerable get the support they need.
Hon. Friends have talked about the ways in which that has been achieved, including the £600 million investment in infrastructure. Some suggested that investment was not happening, but I can assure them that it is: my local authority and borough are being supported with £60 million of investment from the Government’s towns fund, with a further £20 million in levelling-up funding bid for at the moment, so we have absolutely seen support from this Government. Some 125 small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses in my constituency—or, as we say in the Black Country, metal bashers, because that is ultimately what we do —benefit from the infrastructure investment and R&D support.
The protections to the triple lock were a dividing line. I point out to the Labour party that when it left power in 2010, we had some of the worst rates of pensioner poverty in Europe, yet Labour Members never talk about that, do they? They never mention that and they have never apologised for it. Under this Government, we have had the triple lock for pensioners—people who worked hard, contributed and have paid in for all their lives.
I have a lot of respect and time for the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman)—I have worked with her on a number of bits of legislation—and when I think of hard workers, I think of the people on the minimum wage in my local factories and those manning shops and working in retail, in unforgiving jobs. It is those people who have paid in their whole lives and want to see that return. Notwithstanding the points that she made about Scotland—I heard and understood them—investing in and safeguarding the triple lock is exactly what we need to do.
I do not wish to repeat too many points made by hon. Members today—I am conscious that at this point in the debate there is a risk of doing that—but it has been vital that we strike a balance in this Finance Bill. That balance is about being fiscally prudent, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made clear, but not on the backs of the most vulnerable. It is also about ensuring that investment in good public services, which was at the heart of the Government’s promise and the contract we made three years ago, is maintained. We have safeguarded investment in levelling up, safeguarded investment in infrastructure, safeguarded and increased investment in education and safeguarded investment in the NHS to ensure that our public services are there. As far as I am concerned, if the Labour party thinks that is some sort of abhorrent thing to do, I do not know where its head is at. If it means that my constituents get the services that they want, pay for and rely on—that they can access a GP, get into a hospital and see their kids go through a decent education system—I will back that to the hilt, because ultimately I was put here to safeguard their public services. We know that we are in a tough situation, but my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench have struck that balance. It is vital that, as we move forward, we continue to assess the situation.
In finishing, I have a few asks, as I often do—I see my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary looking at me in anticipation. I was pleased to hear mootings of an industrial strategy. Those of us in the Black Country, where we are proud of our industrial heritage and our infrastructure, can be at the forefront of the new industrial revolution, particularly on the green agenda. I know that the Government are particularly concerned about energy security, and I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend about that.
My ask is that we ensure that areas where we have good industrial capacity are not forgotten. One point relayed to me is that there is sometimes a feeling that those who are not in financial services or a service industry are a bit left behind. I see my hon. Friend looking at me; it is vital that we have an industrial strategy focused on our manufacturing base—he and I have had discussions about that and are passionate about it—to ensure that good, strong manufacturing and engineering jobs can be part of our growth and recovery, particularly in the Black Country. We already have the infrastructure, so let us make the most of it.
The Bill strikes the right balance by protecting public services and safeguarding the most vulnerable. As far as I am concerned, we are fulfilling the contract that we made with the people three years ago.
It is a pleasure to speak at the back end of the debate following so many fascinating contributions from the Government and Opposition Benches. I particularly enjoyed the comments from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray), positioning Labour as the party of small business. I have long believed that that is true—the best way to create small businesses is to start with a big business and then elect a Labour Government.
I support the Government overall and this well-crafted autumn statement. It balances the books in a way that bears down on inflation without harming growth, and it has been done in a fair way, as many hon. Members have said, helping households who are struggling. The energy price guarantee and the retention of the pensions triple lock are particularly welcome. I also welcome the extra money for health and education. Like my fellow Conservatives, I do not like the fact that taxes are going up to the highest level for 70 years, but I accept that that is necessary and that we must accept sound money before tax cuts.
The main focus of my comments will be on an issue raised by several hon. Members: research and development. I very much welcome the fact that the Government are committing to £20 billion a year of public money for research and development, but my concern is about the changes to the R&D tax relief system. The Government have made major changes, with the system becoming more generous to big firms to make them more internationally competitive, but the rate of relief for small and medium-sized businesses effectively being cut in half, from 33% to 18.6%. It is a bit more complex than that, but that is the gist. Why are the Government doing that? As the Chancellor said in his autumn statement, it is to tackle fraud. Indeed, fraud is a problem—I have looked into that as chair of the Conservative Back-Bench Treasury committee —and we do need to tackle it. However, the trouble with this way of tackling research and development fraud is that it punishes legitimate research companies as much as fraudsters and chancers, lumping them all in together. There are better ways of doing that.
I am talking about this because it is a particularly big issue in my constituency. South Cambridgeshire is the life sciences capital of Europe. I have literally hundreds of life science companies, from the global headquarters of AstraZeneca down to the newest start-ups. Almost every village has a science park packed full of life science companies. Those small start-ups are at the cutting edge of research and development in life sciences. More research and development in life sciences is now done in small businesses than by the big pharma companies. Without them, innovation would be very slow and the UK would lose its position as a life science superpower. We talk about becoming a life science superpower, but we are one already, and most of the rest of the world recognises that.
It is in the nature of those small companies that they are research-heavy, but clinical trials mean that it could take 10 to 15 years to bring a product to market before they make any revenues. They are funded not by revenues from global sales of blockbuster drugs, like big pharma companies, but by investors who fund research for a decade or more before they have any chance of a return. Their financial models depend on the research and development tax credit regime, which is fundamental to them in leveraging funds from investors from around the world. It has been successful in making the UK an attractive place to do research.
It is important to have research and development. It is also important that those companies can do their research on Parkinson’s, diabetes and heart disease, and all those things must have research and development investment. Does the hon. Member feel that the Government need to enhance that to their betterment and find cures for Parkinson’s, pancreatic cancer, diabetes and heart disease?
Absolutely. Many companies in my constituency and publicly funded institutes are doing research on those diseases. That is critical to people living healthy lives as well as to the economy, and the Government are absolutely right to support it.
The sudden cutting in half of research and development tax relief is a major challenge to the life science companies in my constituency, which are shocked at what is proposed —seemingly out of the blue. Many, if not most of them, are suddenly having to rethink their research plans. They are in shock particularly because it was proposed at such short notice—it will come into effect next year—and without consultation. They are having to go to their investors now and say that they will no longer have the money they thought they would and that they will have to cut back research and jobs.
Let me give the House a few examples of real companies in my constituency that I have been working with. PhoreMost combines artificial intelligence with drug research. I went to the opening of its laboratories in the village of Sawston. Neil Torbett, the chief executive officer, said:
“The current R&D tax system has been instrumental in our growth as a Cambridge-based Biotech, which has grown to over 50 highly skilled staff, raised £45 million in investment and entered into multiple pharmaceutical industry partnerships. Receipts from R&D tax credits form a critical part of our funding equation, and the proposed SME R&D tax relief cut will materially adversely affect our future growth plans within the UK.”
I opened the offices of bit.bio, another company in my constituency, which does the most amazing genetics research—I have mentioned it before. Mark Kotter, the chief executive officer, said:
“The assistance at the current level is a cornerstone of our financial projections, which also help us to attract equity funding, and any reduction in the claimable amount will have a significant impact on our ability to invest and grow at the desired rate.
As part of our forecast, we will be looking to increase our current headcount of 175 by approximately 30% in the next year, but quite simply this will not be possible if the tax relief changes announced in the Autumn Statement become reality.”
I could give countless other examples. This is dramatically changing the prospects of life science research in Cambridge.
I know that the Government want to champion life sciences as part of their ambition to ensure that we are a life sciences superpower. I have worked with the Government on that. Indeed, I welcomed the life sciences Minister—the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince)—to my constituency just last week. I know that they want to tackle fraud in the R&D tax credits regime. As a taxpayer, I very much want us to do that; it is a duty of Government to ensure that the taxpayers’ money is well spent. We share those dual objectives, but there are better ways to tackle fraud without harming research. We can throw out the dirty bathwater without throwing out the baby.
Here are some suggestions. We can ban contingent fee—no-win, no-fee—tax agents. A whole industry of people are trying to make money out of encouraging other people to put in fraudulent tax credit claims. We could ban that. We should resource HMRC so that it can scrutinise the claims. Most claims are automated and there is no scrutiny of what is put in. That encourages and gives an easy ride to fraudsters.
We can also limit claims for soft innovation—that is, technical maintenance and updates that would have been made anyway and which people would not normally think of as research and development. They should not be getting research and development tax relief in the first place. Lastly, to distinguish between the life science companies that we all want to encourage and the fraudsters and chancers, the Government could create an R&D tax regime for knowledge-intensive companies, which are already recognised in the tax codes; there would be no definitional issue, because those companies are already in the tax code. I am talking about companies with under 500 employees carrying out work to create intellectual property and expecting the majority of their business to come from that work within 10 years, or companies where more than 20% of employees are doing research roles requiring a master’s degree, a PhD or beyond.
If the Government take those steps, they can promote research while tackling fraud. I urge them, on behalf of all the businesses in my constituency—dozens of which have been in contact—to delay the implementation of the change, consult the industry on it and to look at more specific ways to tackle fraud, so that we can distinguish between genuine research that we want to encourage and the fraudsters and chancers. Will the Financial Secretary or the Exchequer Secretary—I am not sure whether this applies to him or her—meet me and industry representatives urgently to talk about the impact of the changes in the regime on life sciences research in the UK? With that caveat—I realise that it is a big one for my constituency members—and assuming a positive answer, I support the Bill overall, and I commend it to the House.
As a dutiful Back Bencher, I answered the call of the Whips and wrote about an hour’s worth of speech, but with your blessing, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will restrict my remarks to about five minutes. I suspect that this is the Bill that none of us wanted, but as a pragmatic Conservative, I concede the fiscal imperative. Importantly, this is the right thing to do for the Conservative party, as the party of fiscal pragmatism, and for the country. I see the Bill as a short-term necessity and not for the long term. We need to put our country back on track and, essentially, steady the economic ship. Fiscal and economic security must be the foundation of all policy and I believe that the Bill provides that.
I do not want to hark back to the ill-fated mini-Budget, but it recognised the basic premise that Governments do not create wealth—businesses and working people do. Therefore, we have to incentivise them to work harder and create more wealth, which, ultimately, represents economic growth. As a low-tax, low-state Conservative, I want to see a low-tax, low-state economy that attracts investment, incentivises growth, rewards workers so that they can keep most of what they earn and ensures that we all enjoy a meaningful standard of living through rising wages. I accept, however, that inflation, borrowing and debt are the elephants in the room.
I wish to make a few points about the clauses. Clauses 1 to 3 relate to the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Act 2022 and include an increase in the levy from 25% to 35%, which is the right thing to do. I would much rather, however, that oil companies pass on their profits to the consumer at the pump and not to their shareholders. That is an absolute no-brainer and I ask the Government to keep the pressure on the oil producers to ensure that the money goes where it needs to.
Clause 5 and 6 are on income tax. I do not like the fact that the thresholds are being kept where they are. It is really important that, with rising wages, working people should keep more of what they earn, but I can live with the proposal for the reasons that have been outlined. The same principles also apply to the dividend rate and capital gains tax. We have to incentivise people to work harder, to save and to try to derive extra income from what they do. Again, I urge the Ministers to review those measures in due course, along with the income tax thresholds.
I am a bit concerned about the vehicle excise duty. I completely understand why we may need to bring that in line with diesel and high-emission cars, but we need to incentivise the drive to net zero at the same time. Again, that measure is worthy of review in due course.
Let me turn briefly to Bracknell, which I am very proud to serve. Bracknell is the silicon valley of the Thames Valley. We have 150 international companies with offices in Bracknell and a lot of small and medium-sized enterprises. Bracknell is the archetypal borough where people benefit from low taxes. In deference to my constituents—those who are working really hard to put food on the table—I urge the Government to make sure that the Bill is seen as a short-term, not a long-term measure.
Lastly, I recognise the predicament in which we find ourselves. After all, the Government borrowed an additional £450 billion to look after people in the UK during the pandemic. That was to put food on the table and to support people, and it stands to reason that that money has to come back into the Treasury. However, with the Ministers in their place, I want to make an important macro point. As the Government of this country, we need a discussion about what the future holds for the UK. We are currently living beyond our means and writing cheques that we cannot cash, so we as a nation need a serious discussion about what we want in this country, for this country and for our people. What will we do in the future? I commend to the Treasury that we need a grand strategic intent that allows us to work out where we will go, because that will drive policy. I also want to see tax reduced at the earliest opportunity, not least to encourage growth and to ensure that the UK remains firmly competitive internationally. That, I am afraid, is a political imperative to ensure that the “Great” in Great Britain stays great.
Following the last Back-Bench contribution, we will go straight to the wind-ups. I call Peter Aldous.
For a moment, I thought that you had forgotten me, Mr Deputy Speaker, but that is greatly appreciated.
The purpose of the Bill, as the Minister—my fellow Suffolk MP—said at the beginning, is to put on to the statute book many of the tax and spending decisions that the Chancellor announced in his autumn statement, with some others being deferred until the spring Finance Bill in 2023. The Chancellor was confronted with an incredibly difficult challenge on 17 November, so in many respects, he was between a rock and hard place. I genuinely believe that he struck the right balance and delivered the statement that the nation required in these very precarious times. He was right to protect the most vulnerable and to provide additional funding for health and social care and education, although on the latter, I think that he should also have included further education and colleges, which are so important in improving the UK’s productivity and providing the many, not the few, with the opportunity to participate in the proceeds of growth that we are so elusively seeking. That said, the Chancellor has appointed Sir Michael Barber to provide a skills reform programme, and he is to be commended for confirming support for Sizewell C, for providing Suffolk with a devolution deal, and for committing to a step change in the drive to improve the energy efficiency of our existing homes and businesses.
I feel that my right hon. Friend had no alternative other than to introduce levies on oil and gas producers and electricity generators. I will focus much of the remainder of my speech on that issue. There is a need to avoid any unintended consequences in the way that the levies operate, which could deter inward investment, which is so important to ensuring our energy security, meeting our net zero targets that enable us to tackle climate change, and regenerating the economies of many coastal communities, such as the Lowestoft and Waveney constituency that I represent.
Clauses 1 to 3 detail the changes proposed to the oil and gas profits levy: raising the rate of the levy to 35%; reducing the investment allowance from 80% to 29%, although it remains at 80% for investment on upstream decarbonisation; and extending the levy to 2028. That last provision appears somewhat random, because it takes no account of the fact that our current very high gas prices may have fallen by then. We should remember that, only a few years ago, gas prices were on the floor. I hope that, if we are in a different place before 2028, the Government will look at bringing forward the sunset clause.
I note that HMRC’s assessment concludes that the
“changes to the Energy Profits Levy are not expected to have a significant macroeconomic impact on the level of business investment”
and that the impact on business will extend only
“to around 200 companies operating in the UK or on the UK Continental Shelf.”
Those findings are very different from those of Offshore Energies UK, which is the trade representative of many of the businesses affected and which provides the secretariat for the British offshore oil and gas all-party parliamentary group, which I chair. It states that
“the tax changes would impact not just North Sea operators but the hundreds of other companies in their supply chains”,
which are so important to coastal communities such as Lowestoft and which extend right across the UK. It notes that such businesses
“provide specialised services such as marine engineering, deep sea diving or subsea communications”,
which are not just important to the oil and gas sector, but vital to the emerging industries of offshore wind, carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen production.
Offshore Energies UK points out that the industry—private business—
“is participating in plans to invest £200 billion by 2030 across all energies, including the lower-carbon ones needed to drive the energy transition.”
There is a real worry that disruption to the tax system could deter that vital investment. Although the Bill does not cover the electricity generator levy— I welcome the Minister’s commitment to engage with the industry before detailing the Government’s proposals— that levy’s provisions and implications should be considered alongside the energy oil and gas profits levy. That is because today’s renewables and oil and gas industries are inextricably interlinked and intertwined.
There is a real worry in the renewables sector that the electricity generator levy may deter the investment needed to end our reliance on fossil fuels. The companies that will be affected are those to which we are looking for investments of billions to accelerate the renewable energy transition. It is only by attracting such private sector investment that the UK can successfully grow its capacity in renewable energy. To meet our 2030 and 2050 targets, we need to attract more private investment, not deter it.
With that in mind, it is concerning that electricity generators are due to miss out on an investment allowance for new wind projects. If we are to be a global leader in offshore wind, including being a pioneer in floating offshore wind technology, there is a strong case for tax incentives to encourage new investment. That does not mean helping energy firms to avoid tax, but it does mean encouraging them to invest in the UK’s clean future for the benefit of the environment, of our future prosperity and of our energy security.
There needs to be a windfall tax, but it must be introduced in a form that is predictable, transparent and fair so as not to undermine investor confidence. I fully recognise that the enormous cost of shielding people and businesses from the worst impacts of the gas crisis requires a windfall tax, but there is a concern that the current and updated proposals for the oil and gas levy and the emerging plans for the electricity generator levy may, or might, have the unintended consequence of deterring investment at a time when we urgently need it, with a negative impact on the key policies of energy security, combating climate change, and levelling up.
It is good news that the Government have undertaken to carry out a long-term review of the tax treatment of UK oil and gas production. I also ask them to keep the oil and gas profits levy in place only while there is a windfall, rather than until 31 March 2028 if present conditions do not continue until then. There is much work to be done to create the stable, long-term fiscal environment required to maximise inward investment. Moving to net zero is a monumental challenge; the state of the public finances is such that we need more than ever to unlock private finance if we are to meet our targets.
Government and business must work together to put in place the long-term, stable tax regime that will ensure that companies make a full but fair contribution. Until recently, Government and business were working well together and a clear industrial strategy was in place, culminating in the 2019 offshore wind sector deal and the 2021 North sea transition deal. There is an urgent need for the Government and the energy industry to renew their marriage vows. I urge my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and his very good team on the Front Bench to set about the task immediately.
We now come to the wind-ups.
May I put on the record my thanks to the emergency services for their work following the tragic deaths of two 16-year-old boys in my constituency, Charlie Bartolo and Kearne Solanke, which took place this weekend? My thoughts are with their family and friends who have been left behind, who will be coming to terms with their loss.
I am grateful for the opportunity to close this debate on behalf of the Opposition. Britain has so much potential, but right now the Tory economic crisis we face is holding us back. The Conservatives have been in power for 12 years, and what do they have to show for it? A crashed economy and the highest tax burden in 70 years. This Finance Bill fails to make fairer choices on tax, and it follows an autumn statement that failed to set out a plan to grow the economy. Labour will oppose the Bill today because it fails on three counts: it raises tax on working people at exactly the wrong time; it fails to take advantage of other sources of revenue and close loopholes that hit public finances; and it comes after an autumn statement that failed to set out a plan for growth and improve living standards.
I am grateful to hon. Friends for their contributions. Reflecting the concerns and frustrations of their constituents, they spoke powerfully about the need for change and for a new direction. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western), who pointed out that we have the weakest growth in the G7 and the highest tax burden since world war two. The hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) spoke passionately about how the Bill will have a negative impact on her constituents. I was pleased to see the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) supporting the call in Labour’s reasoned amendment to end non-dom status; I hope he will support the amendment tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) spoke of the importance of addressing inequality. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (James Murray) put it, this Finance Bill is exactly that: a bill for working people to pay for the Government’s mess. [Hon. Members: “Rubbish!”] There have been 24 Tory tax rises during this Parliament, so it is not rubbish. The tax burden is the highest in 70 years, and now the Government want to introduce a new stealth tax to turn the screws on working people.
Let me remind the Government of what they have achieved so far. In real terms, wages are lower in 2022 than they were when the Tories came to power in 2010. Tory economic incompetence is doubling spending on the debt interest from last year, and business investment is 8% below its pre-pandemic peak. That is the Tories’ record in government—and what is their response to those challenges? To double down and load further costs on to our economy. This is what the OBR predicts their plans will achieve: real wages falling by 7% over the next two years, the UK falling behind the pack with the lowest growth in the G7 over the next two years, and real wages falling further—by 7%—over the next two years, leaving the average worker £40 worse off. The head of the Institute for Fiscal Studies described these numbers as “simply staggering”, and I quite agree. The Conservatives are presiding over a lost decade, with low growth and economic incompetence wiping out people’s wages and savings. As the Federation of Small Businesses put it, the autumn statement was
“high on stealth-creation and low on wealth-creation”
—or, to put it even more simply, the Conservatives are building a high-tax, low-growth economy.
The Government will say that they had no choice, but we know that that is not the case. There were so many options that they could have taken to raise revenues. Labour proposed a windfall tax on oil and gas giants, on the profits of rising energy prices and war, back in January. The Government ignored our calls and instead pressed ahead with their own “windfall tax”, which amounts to a huge giveaway of public money to the very oil and gas companies that are making record profits. [Interruption.] The Tories do not want to hear this, but these are the facts. Under that scheme, some oil and gas companies paid zero tax in the UK this year, despite record global profits. This tax break is set to cost taxpayers £8 billion over five years—£8 billion that could be spent helping those who most need it as we move into the winter months.
The list goes on. There were other, fairer choices that the Government could have made. They could have scrapped the non-dom status that costs taxpayers an extra £3.2 billion a year. They could have reversed their tax cut for banks and ended the tax breaks on bankers’ bonuses. They could have reconsidered the VAT exemption for private schools. We know that it did not have to be like this, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North explained, Labour has a plan for growth that will get our economy firing on all cylinders. [Interruption.] I will tell the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) about it, if she wants to hear.
Our plan is to replace business rates to support our high streets, to implement a modern industrial strategy to help businesses to succeed, to introduce start-up reforms to make Britain the best place to grow a business, and to fix the holes in the Brexit deal so that we can export more. That will be complemented by our green prosperity plan, which will create jobs across the country. We will deliver greater self-sufficiency in renewable energy by doubling onshore wind, trebling solar and quadrupling offshore wind, thus reducing people’s energy bills and guaranteeing our energy security. We will create half a million jobs in renewable energy, and an additional half million by insulating 19 million homes over 10 years. We will make Britain a world leader in the industries of the future, and ensure that people have the skills to benefit from those opportunities.
Raising taxes on working people, failing to take fair choices and close loopholes, and an autumn statement with no plan for growth—our amendment sets out those three failures that will hold our economy back. The choice is clear: it is a choice between a “vicious cycle of stagnation” with this Conservative Government—and the House should not take my word for it; those are the words of the Prime Minister himself—and an ambitious plan for growth with Labour.
Let me start by echoing the condolences expressed by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) during what are very difficult times in her constituency. We send, obviously, our sincerest wishes to the families and friends of those two young men, and hope that the rest of the community, who must be finding this a very worrying time, manage to get through it as well.
I thank Members on both sides of the House for their contributions to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) said that the one wish of his constituents was for “boring leadership”, setting a challenge that I will try to face up to in my speech.
The Chancellor set out our economic plan to deal with the financial headwinds that we face now and in the coming months, and the next step in that plan is this Bill. We are taking these changes forward rapidly now because we are serious about fiscal sustainability, economic stability and growth. Before I talk about our plan, however, I will correct some “facts” that were given during the debate.
The Labour Front Benchers and the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) criticised our growth record, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) reminded us, over the last 12 years we have experienced the third highest growth in the G7, behind only the United States and Canada. That is some record of growth, but, oddly enough, it was absent from the speeches made by Opposition Members. The OBR has said that higher energy prices explain the majority of the downward revision in cumulative growth since March. It has confirmed that the recession is shallower, inflation is reduced, and about 70,000 jobs are protected as a result of our decisions.
Will the Minister give way?
I will in a moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) emphasised the importance of growth and levelling up. In his own constituency, he has seen the positive effects of what the Government have done. Only last week the Prime Minister visited the Darlington Economic Campus, along with the Exchequer Secretary. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt), and others, emphasised the importance of further education and, in particular, education for those with special educational needs. By 2024-25, £3.8 billion will have been invested in skills—and, of course, there is the Barber review, about which we have heard today.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) outlined his admiration for the fact that, even in these difficult economic times, we are still protecting public services by investing billions of pounds in the health service and in education. We will continue to emphasise these facts as we move on with this work.
This Bill is part of our plan to deal with the international pressures caused by the invasion of Ukraine, inflation and the hangover from the pandemic. The changes to the energy profits levy will ensure that the oil and gas companies experiencing extraordinary profits pay their fair share of tax.
The changes to R&D tax relief ensure that the taxpayer gets better value for money as we continue to support the valuable research and development needed for long-term growth while cracking down on error and fraud. The changes to personal tax ensure that, although we are asking everyone to contribute a little more towards sustainable public finances, we do so in a fair way with the better-off shouldering a greater burden. The changes to the taxation of electric vehicles ensure that all motorists pay a fairer tax contribution while continuing to provide generous incentives to support EV uptake.
What is Labour’s plan? The one thing I heard seems to centre on non-doms. The problem with Labour’s plan is that the maths does not add up. Labour says its plan will save £3 billion but, in the last year, non-doms paid nearly £8 billion in income tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax and national insurance. What is more, they have invested £6 billion in investment schemes since 2012, which is precisely why we are taking a careful and considered approach. Indeed, the Chancellor told the Treasury Committee last week that we will continue to look at such schemes. But an interesting fact is that, in 2017, we were the Government who ended permanent non-dom status, which Labour did not manage to do in 13 years.
The energy profits levy and the electricity generator levy will raise £55 billion over the next six years from companies that should not and could not have expected such enormous profits—caused by the barbaric war in Ukraine—when they were putting their business plans in place one or two years ago. The investment allowance remains at its current value to allow companies to claim around £91 of tax relief for every £100 of investment. Again, Labour was against this but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) set out very cogently, businesses have to be able to invest, as that is how we will ensure our energy security over the coming years.
The same is true of R&D tax relief. My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) reminded us of his experience as a trainee accountant, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West wants an industrial revolution in the Black Country. I would like one in the east midlands, too. We aim to ensure that we get more bang for our buck from this tax relief by focusing the money where it will bring about the most profit.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) is proud of the life science superpower that is his constituency. We are listening, and we will consult on a single scheme design ahead of the Budget next spring. Of course, I will be delighted to meet him and others—I am already in the process of organising that meeting—to discuss how we can support smaller businesses.
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire asked whether tax credits are being paid more quickly. He knows we had to take extraordinary steps in response to a suspected criminal attack on the R&D tax credit scheme earlier this year. The necessary implementation of additional checks created a small backlog of claims, but this backlog has been cleared. We are now processing 80% of claims within 40 days, and we want to improve that figure even more.
Many Members talked about personal tax thresholds. We have tried to balance the needs of the country as a whole with the need to protect the most vulnerable. That is why those with the broadest shoulders carry the most weight, which is the fairest approach. The personal allowance will still be £2,150 higher in April 2028 than it would have been had it been uprated by inflation since 2010.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) expressed concern about the electric vehicle measures. I drive an electric vehicle, and I think it is right that those who drive an electric vehicle on the roads should now contribute towards the upkeep of those roads. We should see that as a success of our plans to encourage more people to drive electric. We have 7 million electric vehicles on our roads, and we have every reason to believe the number will continue to increase, so it is right that electric vehicle drivers contribute towards the upkeep of the roads.
As my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary said at the beginning of this debate, the UK is facing challenging headwinds. That means that difficult decisions need to be taken to support the public finances, providing stability and certainty to markets, and providing the foundation for future growth. This Finance Bill will help to deliver those and, importantly, it will do so in a fair way, with the heaviest burden falling on those with the broadest shoulders. It forms an essential part of our plan for the economy, so I commend it to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Bill read a Second time.