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Environment: Green Growth

Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 16 May 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recent Green Alliance report into the use of tax reliefs to promote sustainable, green growth.

My Lords, the views of stakeholders, including the Green Alliance, are given serious consideration when formulating policy. The Government remain committed to increasing the proportion of revenue from environmental taxes. This needs to be balanced with ensuring predictability, stability and simplicity in the tax code. In Budget 2012 the Government further demonstrated their intention to meet their environmental commitments while reducing unnecessary administrative burdens.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I imagine that, as a member of the “greenest Government ever”, the Minister will have warmly welcomed the Green Alliance’s recent report into using tax relief on savings products to bring about green growth. Will he comment specifically on the suggestion that those companies offering products that receive reduced tax relief should be required to adhere to the standards code, which is currently voluntary, and that there should be greater transparency in how they invest the money that is saved?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for confirming the green credentials of this Government. She raises an interesting point because, on the question of transparency, the Green Alliance report refers to all ISAs—so to a broader suite of savings products than merely green products. Any contribution to the debate about increasing transparency is to be welcomed. Other reports have been written recently about transparency around fees in particular, while this one is more about the transparency of the investments in the portfolio. I note that a number of green ISAs already on the market make a virtue out of the transparency that they offer. Generally this is an important debate but one in which the voluntary approach, backed up by the code that the noble Baroness refers to, is right.

Would your Lordships agree that many individuals would like the opportunity to put their ISAs into sustainable investments? Is that not an argument for looking at the green investment bank as an opportunity? Are the Government considering opening up the possibility of investment into the green investment bank for institutions and individuals who could then use their ISAs in this way?

First, it is important to recognise that there are at least 16 funds that I have been able to identify in the ISA space that are already green or ethical in their scope and branding. More generally, there have been lots of proposals for tailor-made ISAs, such as big society ISAs, small company ISAs, corporate bond ISAs, social investment ISAs and early intervention ISAs. There are a lot of worthy ideas around, all of which have their merits, but on the ISA brand we intend to keep it as simple and broad as it has always been. As for the green investment bank, as my noble friend knows, at the moment it has its initial capital for the next four years and is actively looking at its 21st project. In time it will be able to borrow, but not for the first four years.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Worthington asked an extremely significant question—although she should note, in referring to this “greenest Government”, that irony is wasted upon them, particularly upon their Treasury Ministers. Why are the Government not investigating these matters with greater urgency? Why, for instance, is the relief on capital gains with regard to housing not tied to the energy efficiency of the house being sold? Why are the Government not pursuing strategies like that which would give reality to their somewhat disputed claim?

My Lords, the private residence capital gains tax relief means that most people are not liable for capital gains tax on their main residences. If access to that relief were linked to energy efficiency improvements, not only would it override the broad policy aim of that relief—that people are encouraged to save for their house—but what about the large number of people who do not necessarily have the funds to be able to improve the efficiency of their homes? Is it really the position of the Opposition that capital gains tax relief on people’s main residences would be taken away if they were not able to afford efficiency improvements? That is certainly not the policy of this Government.

My Lords, will my noble friend slightly contain his green enthusiasm? Is he aware that the Green Alliance’s headline for the paper to which the noble Baroness referred is “Save tax relief for low-carbon savings and investments”? It is arguing—it may be the view of the Opposition—that all reliefs for savings, investor start-up and business should be abolished except for those devoted to greenery, which should be increased. Will my noble friend confirm that that is not the policy of Her Majesty’s Government?

Would my noble friend also bear in mind, in response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, that what the noble Lord proposed about greenness and efficiency would hurt hardest those in the country who do not have cavity walls but have solid brick or stone houses and no access to mains gas? It would penalise those in the country. That again shows that the Labour Party is very anti those living in the countryside rather than those living in urban areas.

Apart from the fact that taking away people’s capital gains tax relief by linking it to green efficiency is absolutely not on the agenda, the key point here is that the forthcoming Green Deal—a world-first policy proposal—will mean that many people will be able to make their homes warmer and more efficient. That is what really matters. Of course we want to see more efficient homes, but there are ways to do that, and the Government have a policy.