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Finance (No. 2) Bill

Volume 831: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2023

Second Reading (and remaining stages)

Moved by

My Lords, we are here to debate the annual finance Bill, introduced in the House of Commons following the Budget on 15 March. At the Budget, my right honourable friend the Chancellor was clear-sighted about the global headwinds we are facing. We are all familiar with the challenge on inflation as we work through the impacts of the pandemic and of the energy crisis triggered by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

In the face of these challenges, the Prime Minister has set out his key economic priorities: to halve inflation, get our national debt falling and secure economic growth. The finance Bill we are debating today is an essential plank in our plan to deliver this. It takes forward measures to support enterprise and grow the economy by encouraging business investment and helping to increase the number of people in work. It legislates for announcements made at previous fiscal events which take advantage of our opportunities outside of the EU and which reinforce our commitment to financial stability and sound money, and it implements the tax measures needed to continue improving and simplifying our tax system to ensure it is fit for purpose.

I turn to the substance of the Bill in those areas, starting with measures to support growth. This Government recognise how important private sector investment is to growth. That is why the Chancellor has set out his long-term vision to make the UK an attractive location for innovators and entrepreneurs, with a particular focus on key growth sectors of digital technology, green industries, life sciences, advanced manufacturing and the creative industries.

That is also why this Bill lowers business taxes to incentivise investment and tackle the productivity gap. Following the end of the super-deduction, the Bill introduces full expensing for the next three years. This means that for every single pound a company invests in qualifying plant or machinery, its taxes are cut by up to 25p. This will result in a corporation tax cut worth £9 billion that the OBR has said will increase investment by 3% for every year it is in place. It will also make us the only major European country with full expensing and give us the joint most generous capital allowance regime of any advanced economy—securing the UK’s position as a global leader.

The Government are committed not only to supporting the growth of established businesses but to providing a boost to start-ups and young companies. The Bill therefore legislates for an increase in the amount of seed enterprise investment scheme funding that companies can raise over their lifetime from £150,000 to £250,000, an increase in the company gross asset limit from £200,000 to £350,000, an increase in the company age limit from two to three years and an increase in the annual investor limit from £100,000 to £200,000. It also introduces changes to the enterprise management incentives, or EMI, scheme to simplify the process to grant options and reduce the administrative burden on participating companies, as well as changes to the company share option plan, or CSOP, rules and limits. Since 6 April 2023, qualifying companies have been able to issue up to £60,000 of CSOP options to employees, which is double the current £30,000 limit. These changes provide a boost to young companies by widening access to the schemes and increasing the limits, encouraging additional investment and helping to attract talent.

To encourage research and development, the Bill legislates for previously announced reforms to R&D tax reliefs, such as changes to support modern research methods by expanding the scope of qualifying expenditure for R&D reliefs to include data and cloud computing costs, and a range of measures to reduce error and fraud to ensure that our tax reliefs are well targeted and offer value for money. By encouraging more businesses to invest in R&D, this Government are helping them to create the technologies, products and services which advance living standards.

The finance Bill will also extend for another two years the current 45% and 50% rates of tax relief for theatres, orchestras and museums. This builds on wider support for the sector through the cultural recovery fund and the public bodies infrastructure fund, and will continue to offset ongoing pressures and boost investment in our cultural sectors.

The Bill will also support the Government’s ambitions for employment. To achieve the dynamic economy we all want and to support action to halve inflation, we need to get more people back into work. This means removing the barriers that stop people who want to work from doing so.

The Government recognised that senior clinicians felt they had to leave the workforce just when the NHS needs them most because of unexpected tax charges on their pension. To make sure that they and those in other professions are not deterred from working, this Bill increases the pensions annual allowance to £60,000. The Bill also removes the lifetime allowance charge altogether. This will incentivise our most experienced and productive workers across our economy to stay in work for longer, easing pressures in the economy while increasing the knowledge and experience of the UK’s labour force.

It is vital that the growth this Bill will support is felt across all corners of the United Kingdom and not concentrated in London and the south-east. The Spring Budget set out the creation of 12 new investment zones, helping to spread the benefits of economic growth around the UK, with at least one zone in each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Government continue to work with stakeholders to establish how investment zones will be best delivered in these areas. This Bill will deliver important aspects of that ambition. It will ensure that investment zones have access to a single optional five-year tax offer in specific sites, matching that in freeports. This will consist of enhanced rates of capital allowances, a structures and buildings allowance, full relief from stamp duty land tax and business rates, and a reduced rate of employer national insurance contributions.

This finance Bill will also deliver on previous commitments, including delivering on the UK’s freedom to set its own course outside the EU. Among these opportunities was a major review of the alcohol duty system on which the Government have worked closely with industry over the past two years. The UK can now implement a system that aligns with public health goals and is fairer for hard-working producers. The Bill simplifies the alcohol duty regime and moves to a progressive tax structure in which products are taxed according to their strength. It also legislates for two reliefs, draught relief and a new small producer relief, which will support a wider range of small businesses to grow and provides a recognition of the vital role that pubs and other on-trade venues play in our communities.

We are also able to take action to better connect our country. As announced in the Autumn Budget 2021, this Bill delivers a package of air passenger duty reforms that will bolster air connectivity across the UK through a 50% cut in domestic APD. The new domestic rate applies to flights between airports in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, benefiting more than 10 million passengers this year. These reforms will also further align with the UK’s environmental objectives by adding a new ultra-long-haul distance band, ensuring that those who fly the furthest and have the greatest impact on emissions incur the greatest duty.

This finance Bill takes forward measures that support sustainable public finances, helping to provide the stability and confidence that underpin the economy and supporting businesses and households across the country. The Bill legislates for a tax on the extraordinary electricity generator returns resulting from the spike in gas prices driven by Russia’s war. This will raise billions of pounds over the next five years to help fund public services and the interventions to support households and businesses with increased energy bills. We are also taking steps to decouple electricity and gas prices permanently by reforming the energy market and using technologies such as energy storage to balance the system and reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels.

To further ensure that businesses pay their fair share of tax, the Bill contains significant measures to protect the UK tax base against aggressive tax planning and reinforce the UK’s competitiveness. This Bill implements the G20-OECD pillar 2 rules in the UK, building on the historic agreement reached with more than 135 countries and jurisdictions and brokered by the current Prime Minister during the UK’s 2021 G7 presidency. This is a two-pillar solution to the tax challenges of a globalised digital economy. Pillar 2 will ensure that multinational enterprises pay a minimum tax rate of 15% in each jurisdiction in which they operate, meaning that those companies operating in the UK will contribute their fair share. The UK is implementing the global minimum tax in unison with many of our international peers, such as Germany, France and Ireland—indeed, all EU member states—as well as Japan, Australia, South Korea and Canada. Acting alongside others is crucial in meeting the aims of this global reform while ensuring that the top-up taxation on UK operations is not imposed by other countries.

Finally, the Government want to deliver a tax system that is simple, fair and fit for purpose. As announced last year, this Bill legislates for the abolition of the Office of Tax Simplification. Rather than an arm’s-length body to oversee simplification, this Government set a clear mandate for officials in the Treasury and HMRC to put tax simplification at the heart of policy-making. A great example of this introduced by the Bill is the previously announced permanent £1 million limit on the annual investment allowance. This measure allows businesses to write off the cost of qualifying plant and machinery investment in the first year up to £1 million, simplifying the tax treatment of capital expenditure for 99% of businesses. As is usual for a finance Bill, this Bill also legislates for a range of administrative changes to deal with technical issues, improving and modernising the tax system and making it easier for businesses to interact with it.

To conclude, this finance Bill takes forward important measures that are needed to support enterprise and growth, including incentivising investment and supporting employment, including in the NHS. It seizes freedoms that are available now that we are outside the EU. It deals with threats to the sustainability of our public finances posed by the energy crisis and international tax avoidance. It supports our long-standing goals to modernise and simplify the tax system. This delivers on an important part of the Government’s commitments made in the Spring Budget to long-term economic growth. For these reasons, I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her speech. This Bill fails to address the fundamental problems that we all face. Economic recovery is hampered because the Government have depleted people’s disposable income through real wage cuts, high inflation, high interest rates and high taxes. This Bill depletes incomes even further by continuing the freeze on personal allowance and income tax thresholds. Without adequate income, people simply cannot buy goods and services and there will not be investment.

The poorest fifth of households in this country pay 22.9% of their income in indirect taxes. The richest fifth pay 9.1%. The Government could have helped the poorest by cutting the rate of VAT or even abolishing VAT on domestic fuel, but they have not done so.

There is nothing in the Bill for women although they are on the receiving end of real wage cuts. The majority of public sector workers are female and their wages have been cut in real terms—so this Bill does not help women either.

Tax cuts for the rich are disguised as tax relief on pension contributions; the Bill estimates that they may be worth more than £1.1 billion a year. The Government say that this is really to help doctors but, of course, it helps accountants, lawyers, architects, engineers and many others too—and the Government are inflicting a real wage cut on doctors as well, which does not help in any way.

The Bill offers nothing to the millions of people who earn less than £12,570 a year or the 28.8 million basic rate taxpayers. The biggest winners are the rich, who will benefit from the pension tax changes. Can the Minister explain why tax cuts for the rich are not matched by tax cuts for low-income and middle-income earners?

The Bill is also unjust. It taxes salaries and wages at rates between 20% and 45% but capital gains are taxed at between 10% and 28%. Why is the return on the investment of human capital taxed more heavily? Why are the Government taxing workers highly? The recipients of capital gains also do not pay any national insurance, even though they use the NHS and social care. Why are they given a free ride? I hope that the Minister can explain that.

There is a sleight of hand on corporation tax. The headline rate will go up from 19% to 25%, but it is estimated that only 10% of companies will pay that because of numerous tax reliefs, some of which the Minister mentioned. Can the Minister say now, as we are possibly heading towards a recession, how many companies will pay the full tax rate of 25%?

The Bill does not expand the tax base at all. It does not consider a financial transaction tax, wealth tax, sugar tax, salt tax or any other tax, which would at least broaden the tax base. None of that is there.

The Government’s central claim is that lower corporation tax rate will somehow encourage investment. Well, we had a corporation tax rate of 19% from 2016 to 2022. That era also had low interest rates, a low inflation rate, negative real wage growth and high tax incentives, but that did not lead to any higher investment. I hope that the Minister can explain the real reasons why the UK is a laggard in investment.

On the basis of private and public sector investment in the UK, the OECD ranks the UK 35th in its league of international investment—below Portugal, Lithuania, Latvia, Mexico, Colombia and Costa Rica. That is a total policy failure, yet all the Government are doing is repeating the same thing—which will get exactly the same results. Hopefully, the Minister will confirm that.

The OBR says that the 4% loss of UK productivity is due to Brexit, but nothing in the Bill or any ministerial Statement deals with Brexit. The Government say they are creating 12 new investment zones and that the businesses operating inside them will receive £80 million over five years. Well, the cost of that will be borne by people outside. Why penalise those who operate outside those investment zones? The OBR says that the Government have not provided enough information to enable it to

“estimate the impacts that these investment zones might have”.

Can the Minister provide us with an estimate of what will happen inside these investment zones?

A few days ago, HMRC published its tax-gap figures. It said that it failed to collect £36 billion of taxes for the year 2021-22, mainly due to avoidance, evasion, fraud and error. Adding up the years from 2010, that is about £450 billion. Other models estimate the number to be over £1,500 billion. What is the Government’s response? It is to cut HMRC’s budget from £5.9 billion for 2022-23 to £5.6 billion in 2023-24 and £4.6 billion in 2024-25. Dealing with tax abuse is a labour-intensive job, but the Government are not providing resources to HMRC.

On 23 March 2023, in response to my Written Question, the Minister said that only eight enablers who devised the tax abuses—accountants, lawyers, bankers—had been prosecuted in the last two years. That is pitiful. The Government clearly are soft on tax cheats and, despite strong court judgments, have failed to investigate, fine or prosecute even one of the big accounting firms. I challenge the Minister to name even one, if she can. I will never ask this question again, so I hope that the Minister will rise to that challenge and tell us which of the big four accounting firms is being challenged. In Australia, the Government have come down hard on PwC. Here, we give it public contracts. We reward it. That is a real failure of the Government.

Can the Minister explain why HMRC’s budget is being cut and why the Government are soft on the tax abuse industry—especially the big accounting firms?

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I am a chartered accountant and member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, and a member by qualification of the Chartered Institute of Taxation. I am pleased to welcome this excellent finance Bill and congratulate the Minister and her team on it. I hope that she will not be seduced by the siren calls of my noble friend to confuse capital and income. Taxation on capital is taxation on a risk, where capital may appreciate or may be lost, and therefore merits a different rate from taxation on income, where one is paid a salary by another person without any risk whatever. That is why the rates are different.

It is a great credit to the Chancellor and my noble friend the Minister that His Majesty’s Treasury is tackling a number of difficult issues head-on. I congratulate them on producing 350 clauses and 460 pages with the perennial plea for less not more, which I quite appreciate is difficult to achieve. I also appreciate that they would probably ask the same of me. So I will focus on a few key areas, the first being R&D tax credits. I had the honour to serve as chairman of the Economic Affairs Finance Bill Sub-Committee, which looked into research and development tax relief and expenditure credit. We looked at this area because the sums are enormous. In this regard I think that the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, will agree with me. Since the scheme started, it is estimated to have cost £46.8 billion, and some £7 billion in the most recent year.

What concerned us greatly was the level of fraud, which was estimated to be some £500 million but is so unquantifiable that the National Audit Office has qualified its accounts of HMRC due to this single issue. Research and development are crucial to our economic success. I know from the response that the Minister in the other place gave to our report that HMRC has studied it carefully and will honour the commitment to keep listening and improving the system, particular in respect of the new requirements to give notice.

I ask my noble friend to have regard to the detailed comments from the Chartered Institute of Taxation, particularly in respect of the new powers that HMRC has to remove a claim. I am all in favour of giving HMRC new powers to stop suspected fraud but, as I read the wording, it seems flawed. For example, there is no right of appeal. We all want to stop the ambulance chasing that we have seen by rogue operators seeking credits for clients and then taking a percentage of the amount that is claimed. However, there remains concern about the nature of the additional information to be required and, of course, HMRC’s ability to capture and process all this.

Since our report was published, I have been contacted by practitioners highlighting real concerns. I have been sent a detailed letter by Mr Stuart Rogers of PKF accountants, which he sent to the Minister in the other place, in which he describes his frustration at HMRC’s compliance team not having the necessary training and skills in research and development. He points to clients now thinking of transferring their R&D to the United States, and to other high-tech clients who have been refused credit where it is clearly due. That is not good news. Will my noble friend agree to hear specific complaints that the R&D compliance check team is causing havoc, and satisfy herself that action needs to be taken here?

Just today, the Chartered Institute of Taxation wrote to HMRC with 11 pages of concerns. In particular, it says that the feedback from its members is that the way that R&D inquiries are being conducted by the individual and small business compliance team remains concerning. Further problems, for example around how penalties are being assessed and how inquiries are being concluded, are emerging as cases progress. The institute wrote:

“We are receiving a significant number of reports from our members about the difficulties that are being encountered in practice and they have provided numerous examples of unfairness and negative taxpayer/agent experience in their interactions with the ISBC team in respect of R&D”.

I will ensure that my noble friend receives a copy of that letter.

I will briefly mention the energy profits levy, as amended in the finance Bill. It is a really important part of the Bill and has caused havoc in the sector. The price floor will never bite—unless, heaven forbid, there is another six-month lockdown. Consequently, there has been a real flight of capital, mainly to oil and gas exploration elsewhere, specifically Asia. We need a long-term—six to 10-year—energy security policy that includes a sensible real price floor. I have made this case before and will continue to do so.

The final area that I will talk about is the taxation of multinationals. I have spoken on this issue many times in this House. Sad person that I am, I made this the subject of my maiden speech. I very much welcome the Government’s move in this direction to deal with base erosion and profit shifting on a two-pillar basis. Pillar 1 seeks to ensure that multinationals with revenues over €20 billion pay taxes where their customers are based. Pillar 2 looks for a minimum 15% tax rate for companies with presence here and revenues of over €750 million. This Bill sets out more details on pillar 2.

There are some 50 amendments to Part 3 of the Bill to try to deal with this very difficult and complicated problem of definitions, safe harbours, exemptions and so on. Creating new definitions of profit is a real challenge, but it is the only way the income inclusion rule can possibly work.

Very recently, HMRC helpfully established draft partial guidance for consultation in relation to the UK’s implementation of the OECD’s pillar 2 rules. It provides a helpful map showing how existing UK draft legislation cross-references to the OECD’s GloBE model rules, commentary and agreed administrative guidance. I accept the argument made by CIOT and others that pillar 2 may not necessarily generate more tax for the UK coffers, because multinationals may just raise the lower tax rates they currently pay in other countries. However, that does not mean that this is not the right way forward; it is the right way forward.

I noted Priti Patel’s comments on this issue in the other place. She is concerned that we end up gold-plating rules, as we tend to do, and we are hamstrung by other rules at exactly the time when, finally, post the Windsor Framework, we can liberate ourselves to determine our own tax policy. As the Minister knows, I am very keen that we do that, particularly on EIS and SEIS issues. I noted her opening comments about how she has increased the rate of SEIS particularly, which is very welcome.

Priti Patel has had assurances from the Chancellor that the Government have committed to regularly updating the Commons on what the OECD is proposing in respect of pillar 2. Can the Minister repeat this assurance to our House that updates on policing pillar 2 will be presented to your Lordships, and will she commit to presenting an assessment of the progress countries are making on pillars 1 and 2 and on the policy itself? It will not work unless every other major country adopts it.

The whole world should recognise the UK Government’s track record of leadership on international tax reform. It has continued in this role and been an early mover in implementing pillar 2 rules. We need the USA in particular to do likewise with Biden’s proposals, and I am keen to know what steps HMRC is taking to pressure other countries to follow our lead. Personally, I was a fan of a reformed digital services tax, which Labour has now abandoned, but I could not persuade HMT to bring it in, so we need to make this alternative route of pillar 2 work.

To reiterate, this is the right way forward and the Government are to be commended for pursuing it.

My Lords, I am grateful for the privilege of saying a few remarks in the gap. I will refer to the change in the lifetime allowance. As noble Lords will recall, this change was initially mooted because pensions anomalies were occurring in respect of better-paid consultants in the National Health Service. Then the Government decided to abolish the lifetime allowance altogether, thus creating a tax giveaway, estimated at the time at £1 billion. As the noble Baroness said in her speech, it was given to the

“most experienced and productive workers”.

Since this is just the top 1% of earners in this country, does she not think the other 99% might be rather offended by her words? Would it not be politic to withdraw that phrase when she sums up?

When the LTA was abolished, it was realised that there would be a significant impact on inheritance tax. At the time of the Budget, I asked the Minister what the impact would be and she was unable to give me a figure. Can she tell me now what the impact on inheritance tax revenues was, and therefore what the total tax giveaway from the abolition of the LTA has been? Will she also confirm that this tax giveaway is being funded by the Government’s increased borrowing? In doing so, will she give her assessment of the impact of this increased borrowing and government indebtedness on the rate of inflation?

My Lords, this is a Bill of limited scope, despite its enormous size and the Explanatory Notes. It covers a range of issues and, typically, we have debated nearly all of them in this House before, so I will limit my comments. There is a fair amount in the Bill that is not satisfactory.

I start with the issue on which the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, focused: tax credits for research and development. As this House knows, the Government scrapped their original and rather generous scheme because, they claimed, there was so much fraud in the system. I would have preferred that they found a way to deal with the fraud, rather than remove that support to a wide range of SMEs. The Bill brings in a tax credit scheme for SMEs that are heavily engaged in R&D, but it ignores the many other SMEs that had planned on an understanding that the old scheme would be available to them, made a series of investments and undertook a great deal of development. Those programmes have now been interrupted or shelved, because the cuts have not just deprived those companies of tax relief but had the knock-on effect of drying up private funding. There are limited financing options for growing SMEs in the UK.

My colleagues in the other place put down amendments to require a review of the impact of the change in reliefs on SMEs—on their funding, job creation and, more broadly, UK economic growth. The flip-flopping which this policy represents is one of the reasons for the pervasive uncertainty that is undermining growth in the UK economy. I would be glad if the Minister could tell me whether there will be a broader review.

I will pick up an issue that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, focused on. The Bill includes an increase in the annual tax-free allowance for pension contributions and the abolition of the lifetime allowance. This should stem the loss of senior doctors, military personnel and others in the public sector who had been put in the ridiculous situation of receiving incremental salary only to find that it triggered incremental taxes far greater than that salary. I honestly suspect that this could have been done through a much more targeted and far less costly set of reforms. It really feels wrong to spend £1 billion a year on some of the best off in our workforce. Will the Government look at a much more targeted approach to achieve this goal, rather than this wider, sweeping giveaway? The scheme fails to touch even the tip of our labour shortage problems, which is where one would have thought this money would be focused. Right now, businesses in the UK and the public sector are foundering for lack of staff.

We have talked endlessly about the windfall tax on oil and gas, and I will not repeat my concerns in that arena. My colleagues in the other place sought to strengthen this country’s green policies with amendments to the Bill to allow generators of renewable energy to offset money reinvested in renewable projects against the energy generator levy. It is offensive that the fossil fuel industry can offset investments, but not renewable generators. When I read this, I felt it was no wonder that the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, was so scathing about the current environmental commitment in his resignation letter.

Ironically, the Bill abolishes the Office of Tax Simplification, presumably because it is viewed as unnecessary, but it does so just as it introduces far more complexity into the tax system—a point highlighted not by my colleagues but by Harriett Baldwin, Conservative chair of the Treasury Select Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, said, the two top-up taxes designed to discourage profit shifting are welcome but, as he pointed out, they are not going to deliver a lot more money to the Treasury. It is good to get thinking about this area and to try to work through the complexity; but let us not pretend that this will be a flow of cash into the Treasury’s coffers.

Frankly, the problem with the full expensing of capex is that it is a short-term stimulus for three years. All that means is that you upfront expenditure and then drop off expenditure when that period is over. The benefit is an extremely limited stimulus.

I received an email very late in the day from the Local Government Association. I will be very quick in mentioning its contents. It is a real expression of regret from the industry, which the Minister should hear, that the Bill was not used to deal with concerns about the implementation of the building safety levy. As the Minister will know, that was originally designed to deal with high-rise development activity, reflecting the greater building safety risk. However, the Government have broadened its scope to cover frankly all development. It could be rolled into other forms of taxation, such as the residential property developer tax. As it stands, it requires

“309 local authorities to set up separate, individual processes to act as a collection and administration agency for the Levy—with all funds raised being returned to Government.”

It is hugely inefficient and very unreasonable. Frankly, if we kept the Office of Tax Simplification, it would have jumped on that issue.

From listening to the Government in the debates on the finance Bill, one would have assumed that all was well with the UK economy. My great fear is that the Government simply do not understand how dire the cost of living crisis is for so many people. Recent reports that many have exhausted their Covid savings is not good news. The voluntary mortgage contract, much touted by the Government, will delay for some the immediate impact of interest rate rises but those high rates—they will be even higher because of the measures people will undertake—will still undermine family finances for both owners and renters.

Inflation in the UK remains stubbornly high. By contrast, eurozone inflation has fallen to 5.5%. Last week, the Minister claimed that lots of other European countries had higher inflation than the UK. I looked at the numbers, and I realised that she and the Government have taken to comparing the UK not with major economies such as Germany or France but with Hungary and Estonia. When did our economy, in the Government’s eyes, become comparable with those of Hungary and Estonia rather than those of other G7 countries?

Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose last month to 7.1%. That is the number that is driving interest rate increases and that captures the sheer economic incompetence of this Government, as well as their wholly inadequate trade relationship with Europe post-Brexit: the sharp drop in exports, British firms removed from supply chains, a collapse in business investment, the fall in sterling, customs friction driving up the cost of imports, labour shortages, and incredibly low productivity.

This finance Bill is a missed opportunity. It could have dealt with so much. It seems to confirm that the Government’s primary goal is to engineer a pre-election tax giveaway next year because the fiscal rules might possibly allow it. All I can say to the Government is that the British people will not be fooled.

My Lords, the Spring Budget that this finance Bill seeks to implement was billed as a “Budget for growth”, yet growth in the UK is barely above 0%, the UK remains one of only two G7 economies to be smaller than before the pandemic, and productivity growth in the UK is the second lowest in the G7. Now, despite growth flatlining, the UK economy is already overheating. Inflation is stuck at 8.7%: the highest in the G7 and the highest in the UK since 1990. Core inflation last month rose to 7.1% —a 31-year high—while in other advanced economies, including in the eurozone and the US, it has started to fall. With growth stalled, one of the Chancellor’s most senior economic advisers has even now called on the Bank of England to “create a recession” to deal with the UK’s persistent inflation problem—a far cry from a Budget for growth.

Last autumn, the Government’s disastrous mini-Budget sent markets into meltdown. Since then, things have only got worse. Today, with inflation higher for longer than in similar economies, the two-year gilt yield stands at 5.38%—a new 15-year high, and above its US equivalent. It is the hard-working people of this country who are paying the price. Interest rates have risen 13 times to a 15-year high of 5%. The average two-year fixed-rate mortgage has increased from 2.6% to well over 6%, and average mortgage costs will this year increase by £2,900 per year. These increases in mortgage payments come after 13 years of low growth and stagnant wages, the biggest fall in living standards since records began and 25 tax rises in this Parliament alone—increases that have pushed the tax burden to its highest level for 70 years.

Spending public money is about priorities; it is about making choices to spend wisely and tax fairly. That is important at any stage for any Government, but in the middle of a cost of living crisis, when household budgets are stretched and mortgage payments are rising relentlessly, after 13 interest rate rises and 25 tax rises, it is more important than ever that we see a fair tax system and a plan to raise the living standards of everyone, in all parts of our country.

Let us look at the priorities for this Government, as revealed by what is included in, and what is absent from, this finance Bill. Although the Bill contains no mention of introducing stealth tax rises for working people, as my noble friend Lord Sikka observed, we know that is exactly what the Government are doing. We know that, in the Budget of March 2021 and the Finance Act that followed it, the then Chancellor, now the Prime Minister, froze the basic rate limit and personal allowance for four years. In the recent Autumn Statement of 2022 and in the Finance Act that followed, the current Chancellor extended those freezes by a further two years. Now, following this Budget, the Office for Budget Responsibility has made it clear that the Government’s six-year freeze in the personal allowance will take its real value in 2027-28 back down to its level in 2013-14.

We called for the freeze in fuel duty and the provisions to ensure that large multinationals pay a minimum level of 15% tax in each jurisdiction in which they operate, so we of course welcome those measures, but while the tax burden for working people is up, other important measures we have been calling for to make the tax system fairer are nowhere to be found in this Bill. There is nothing to close the loopholes in the windfall tax on oil and gas giants, which we have been urging the Government to do for so long. We pressed for an extension of the energy price freeze for many months, and we were glad that the Government followed our lead in the Budget, but it is wrong to still leave billions of pounds of windfall profits for oil and gas giants on the table when those windfalls should be helping support families through the cost of living crisis.

Also missing is any action to tackle non-dom tax status. We believe that those who make Britain their home should pay their taxes here. That patriotic point should be uncontroversial. Yet, while families across the UK face higher taxes year on year, the Government are helping a few at the top avoid paying their fairer share of tax when they keep their money overseas. The non-dom rules that allow this to happen cost more than £3 billion every year. Ending that outdated, unfair loophole and replacing it with a modern system could fund measures to strengthen our NHS, childcare and the economy.

So there are no measures to reduce the tax burden on working people and no measures to make the tax system fairer. Instead, the Government chose to abolish the lifetime limit on tax-free pension savings. In the middle of a cost of living crisis, this giveaway for the very wealthiest costs £1.2 billion, benefits only those with the biggest 1% of pension pots and increases the value of a £2 million pension pot by some £250,000. As my noble friend Lord Eatwell said, it also opens up an inheritance tax loophole, whereby it is now possible to accumulate unlimited sums within a pension fund and pass them on entirely free of inheritance tax.

The Minister said that this measure was necessary to keep doctors working rather than retiring early, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said, the Government could have introduced in this Bill a targeted scheme to do just that. Indeed, that is what the current Chancellor suggested less than a year ago. The British Medical Association has said that a scheme targeted at doctors could be introduced at a fraction of the cost.

The Government claim that their policy is about keeping people in work. Yet, as Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, says, it will cost in the region of £100,000 per job retained, and as the Resolution Foundation says, it may

“actually encourage some people to retire earlier than they otherwise would have done”.

The Government’s approach and the choice they have made fails the test of providing value for money. In the middle of a cost of living crisis, a blanket giveaway for some of the very wealthiest in our country is simply the wrong priority for more than £1 billion of public money every year.

That same failure to spend public money wisely is evident again in this Bill’s proposal to reduce air passenger duty for domestic flights. Again, at a time when public finances are under severe pressure, when household budgets are stretched in all directions and when the cost of inaction on climate change grows by the day, it is baffling that this is the Government’s priority for spending public money.

While we need action to make the tax system fairer, a proper plan for growth is the only long-term, sustainable way to make our country more prosperous and the British people better off. The UK has the lowest investment as a percentage of GDP in the G7, so it is disappointing that, as the Office for Budget Responsibility reveals, this Bill’s changes to corporation tax and allowances will make no difference whatever to medium-term levels of business investment. Rather than a long-term permanent change, these changes are for only three years. As a result, they only bring forward investment rather than increasing its overall level. The Government’s policy paper on temporary full expensing, published on the day of the Budget, makes that clear. It says:

“This measure will incentivise businesses to bring forward investment to benefit from the tax relief”.

Meanwhile, the OBR forecast makes it clear that business investment between 2022 and 2028 is essentially unchanged as a result of these measures. If anything, there is a very slight fall. That cannot be good enough. That is why, as part of Labour’s mission in government to secure the highest sustained growth in the G7, we would review the business tax system and set out a clear road map to provide certainty and boost investment. We believe that the UK’s long-term underperformance on capital investment needs long-term measures as part of a tax framework that supports and incentivises investment.

A fairer and more certain tax system, underpinned by a long-term economic plan, is crucial to helping businesses invest and grow, but an ambitious plan for growing our economy must go further, and we have made it clear that this would be Labour’s first mission in government. At the heart of our plan to grow the economy, create jobs and wealth and make everyone in our country better off is the partnership we would build between government and business. We understand, as do businesses, that growth comes from the Government supporting private enterprises to succeed in the industries of the future. That is why we would support growth in the digital economy and the life sciences, update our planning system to remove barriers to investment and improve access to capital for new and growing businesses. We would make sure that government and business work together and invest together for the good of everyone in every region and nation of the UK.

Our country needs a fairer tax system after 13 years of low growth and 25 tax rises that have pushed the tax burden to its highest level in 70 years. Britain’s businesses need stability and certainty in order to boost investment, create jobs and grow our economy. Our economy needs a credible, ambitious plan for growth that gets us off this path of managed decline, provides security for family finances and makes people across Britain better off. That it does none of these things is perhaps the greatest failure of this finance Bill and the Budget it seeks to implement.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the short debate that we have had on the finance Bill today. Noble Lords reflected on the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves. We recognise that high inflation increases costs for households and businesses and that, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor has said, low inflation is necessary for growth. The energy shock from Russia’s unlawful invasion has been felt more in the UK, partly due to our historic dependence on gas, and domestic factors such as record tightness in the labour market and high inactivity rates have put pressure on UK inflation, but that does not remove the fact that we are not alone in facing the global challenge of high inflation rates. Despite this, the IMF has said that the UK has taken decisive and responsible steps to tackle inflation, and all major forecasters expect inflation to fall this year.

Turning to noble Lords’ comments around the level of taxation in our economy and the suggestion—I am not sure whether it was from the Labour Front Bench—that we should change the decisions that we made on tax thresholds to consolidate our public finances and that this should be the route that we take to help people with the cost of living, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor has made clear, the Government’s number one priority is reducing inflation. Not only will this be the most effective tax cut for people and businesses across the UK, but we must not to do anything to prolong inflation, which unfunded tax cuts would only fuel.

It is important to reflect on the action taken since 2010. We have increased the personal allowance and the national insurance contribution threshold above inflation, taking millions of people out of paying tax altogether. Consequently, we have some of the most generous starting allowances for income tax and social security contributions in the OECD and the most generous in the G7.

Outside the tax system, to support household we have focused our help on those who are most vulnerable to the impact of rising prices. Our cost of living support includes the energy price guarantee, cost of living payments and the household support fund, as well as uprating benefits in line with inflation. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, that the Government recognise the impact that rising inflation and increases in the cost of living are having on households across the country. That is why cost of living support for households totals £94 billion, or around £3,300 per household, on average, this year and next, which represents one of the most generous packages of support in all of Europe. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, that looking at the impact of the decisions made from the Autumn Statement 2022 onwards, government support for households in 2023-24 provides low-income households with the largest benefit in cash terms and as a percentage of income. On average, households in the bottom half of the income distribution will see twice as much benefit as households in the top half of the income distribution in cash terms.

My noble friend Lord Leigh welcomed the implementation of the G20/OECD pillar 2 rules. We take our international obligations very seriously. We were instrumental in negotiating this agreement and these rules and as such do not see them as at odds with our sovereignty. We retain sovereignty to set our corporation tax rate as one of the lowest in the G7 and to use important tax levers to boost investment in the UK, including our world-leading full expensing regime and our generous R&D tax reliefs. In fact, pillar 2 will boost the international competitiveness of the UK because it places a floor on low and no tax rates that have been available in some countries. It is designed to protect against the risks of harmful tax planning by multinational groups. As my noble friend said, it is important that the UK legislates for these rules now but, to repeat the assurance that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury gave in the Commons, we will provide an update on pillar 2 implementation as part of the forthcoming fiscal event in the autumn and, if necessary, in the spring, too. This will include the latest revenue forecast from the OBR and an update on the status of international implementation.

I turn to my noble friend’s comments on research and development relief. He asked whether I would have regard to the Chartered Institute of Taxation’s detailed comments, in particular in respect of the new powers HMRC has to remove a claim. While it is correct to assert that customers do not have a right of appeal, they do have a new statutory right of representation to provide HMRC with evidence within 90 days if they think the claim has been removed in error. They also retain the right to apply for judicial review if they do not think HMRC has applied the process correctly.

My noble friend also raised concerns about the R&D compliance check. The Government acknowledge that there is currently a high level of non-compliant claims in R&D tax reliefs and that it is right that HMRC takes action, as I think my noble friend also recognised. HMRC has increased the action it is taking, which means addressing more of the non-compliance. As part of this, it has been rapidly upscaling its numbers of people, and this can sometimes come with teething problems. HMRC ensures that less experienced caseworkers can call on technical support or specialist advice from more senior colleagues. HMRC will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that the department is managing checks professionally and in line with the HMRC charter, and I would happily hear any further representations by my noble friend or others on how we can ensure that we are delivering in this area.

On company tax rates, the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, asked how many companies will pay the full 25% rate, which is an increase in the headline rate of corporation tax. The noble Lord is absolutely right that the small profits rate will keep the rate at 19% for companies with profits of £500,000 or under, and marginal relief is available for companies with profits from £50,000 to £250,000, meaning that companies will pay somewhere between 19% and 25%. That means that 70% of actively trading companies will not see an increase in the rate of corporation tax they pay, and only 10% will pay the full rate.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to make those points. Sometimes, there is concern among those in business that our corporation tax rate is either uncompetitive or targeting smaller businesses. What we have done in changing the rate is to ensure that businesses pay their fair share of returning our public finances to a sustainable footing after the shocks of Covid and the invasion of Ukraine. We have reinstated some of those exemptions to ensure that the smallest businesses do not face those burdens. That is entirely how we have designed our approach.

Can the Minister tell us—this is not to make a point but just for clarification and to understand the numbers better—is it 70% by number of companies or 70% by a value number of some sort, such as an asset value, a market value or a revenue generation value? How is that number calculated?

What I have before me is that 70% of actively trading companies will not see an increase, so I would take it as the former. If it is calculated in a different way, I will write to the noble Baroness to clarify that.

To strengthen the Minister’s own point, it might be helpful if we had a calculation that gave us a better feel. One multinational could easily produce revenues many times those of dozens and dozens of small companies, so she might be getting a bigger tax take than the number that she is using implies.

The noble Baroness is exactly right. The increase in the headline rate of corporation tax makes a significant contribution to our public finances and to the consolidation of our public finances after Covid. All I meant to say is that, for some of the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, we have been able to exempt smaller businesses from that increase while also ensuring that bigger businesses—which often benefited a large amount from government support put in place during the pandemic—contributed their share to returning our public finances to a sustainable footing.

The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, also asked why HMRC’s budget had been cut. HMRC will receive a £0.9 billion cash increase over the Parliament, from £4.3 billion in 2019-20 to £5.2 billion in 2024-25, so I do not quite recognise the picture that the noble Lord has put forward. HMRC’s budget includes funding to tackle avoidance, evasion and other forms of non-compliance, to deliver a modern tax system and to support a resilient customs border.

I turn to another area of tax, the energy profits levy, which, I remind noble Lords, has helped to pay a significant proportion of households’ and businesses’ energy costs through the support that we have been able to provide. I want to be clear to noble Lords that the allowances in place are not a loophole. The OBR’s latest forecast is that the EPL will raise just under £26 billion between 2022-23 and 2027-28, inclusive of the EPL’s investment allowances. That is on top of £25 billion over the same period from the permanent regime for oil and gas taxations, totalling around £50 billion.

Abolishing the investment allowance would be counterproductive. The UK is still reliant on oil and gas for its energy supply and will be for several years; reducing incentives to invest would lead to investors pulling out of the UK, damaging the economy, causing job losses and leading to lower tax revenue in future.

My noble friend Lord Leigh asked about the impact of the price floor and the Government’s long-term plans for energy security. By introducing the energy security investment mechanism, the Government are providing certainty about the future of the energy profits levy. This allows companies to invest confidently in the UK and supports our economy, jobs and energy security.

On the long-term fiscal regime for oil and gas, the Government are also conducting a review to ensure that the regime delivers predictability and certainty, supporting investment, jobs and the country’s energy security. I wonder whether that predictability and certainty would be covered in Labour’s review of business taxes. I do not think the oil and gas sector sees predictability and certainty in its policy approach in recent weeks.

I turn to the electricity generator levy. Unlike the EPL, this not a tax on total profits that is calculated after the recognition of total revenues and costs. Instead, the EGL is payable only on the portion of revenues that exceeds the long-run average for electricity prices. The Government took into account the potential impact on investment when setting the benchmark price.

The Government are supporting renewables deployment through a range of policy levers, including the contracts for difference scheme, through which generators have received almost £6 billion net in price support to date. The electricity generator levy will not be payable on renewable generation produced under contracts for difference, which is the Government’s main form of support for green energy and will account for most new large renewable generation.

I turn to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Livermore, on non-doms. The Government recognise that issues of taxation come down to fairness. We need to have a fair but internationally competitive tax system which brings in talented individuals and investment that contribute to growth. Reforming the non-dom regime could potentially damage the UK’s international competitiveness, leading to a loss of international investment and talent. There is a great deal of uncertainty over the wider economic impacts of complete abolition.

Non-doms play an important role in funding our public services through their tax contributions. They pay tax on their UK income and gains in the same way as everyone else, and they pay tax on foreign income and gains when those amounts are brought into the UK. The latest information shows that that non-UK domiciled taxpayers are estimated to have been liable to pay almost £7.9 billion in UK income tax, capital gains tax and national insurance contributions in 2020-21 and have invested over £6 billion in the UK using the business investment relief scheme introduced in 2012.

On another point of clarification, is my noble friend saying that HM Treasury’s calculations are that, if the reliefs that apparently exist for non-doms were withdrawn, as has been suggested elsewhere, there would be a net loss to Treasury revenue, given the mobile nature of such non-domiciled persons?

I am saying that that is most certainly a risk. There is a high amount of uncertainty about the impact of any changes in that area, and it would not necessarily lead to an increase in revenue, as is being relied upon by the Labour Party.

My Lords, surely there is not that degree of uncertainty, since the Government did raise a base levy on non-doms. Surely, then, we have evidence from the mobility of non-doms reacting to that base levy. What is the evidence? I suggest it is evidence of no mobility at all.

My Lords, I was speaking about the difference between changes to any scheme and abolition of the status altogether, but I would say that there is a high degree of uncertainty about the impact of changes made in this area.

Finally, I turn to the pension tax changes made through this Bill and the Budget, which many noble Lords have spoken about. To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, I was not implying that only the most highly skilled and productive workers benefit from these changes, but many of them will. They have been designed in response to feedback from the NHS in particular that there was an impact on retention of the most skilled staff.

Regarding the suggestion that a doctors-only change could have been implemented instead, unlike more targeted policies, the Government have considered a range of options to address this issue over a number of years. One of the elements which means that a more targeted approach would not be appropriate in these circumstances is the time it would take to implement. These changes could be implemented quickly, from April 2023, minimising the risk of early retirements in the NHS before any changes take effect.

In the Statement taken before this debate, we heard about the pressures on our NHS workforce and the pressing need to address those immediately. If we were to take a targeted approach to one profession—NHS doctors—we may well come back to the same issue, as the same issues are faced by employees in other sectors, such as air traffic controllers, the police, the Armed Forces and senior teachers. To introduce targeted measures for each profession would not be an effective way to deal with challenges across those different workforces.

The Government are aware of the concern raised by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell—

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will she take up my challenge and tell me which of the big four accounting firms, with strong court judgments against them in the cases brought by HMRC, has been investigated, fined, disciplined or denied government contracts because they are peddling tax abuses? If the Minister cannot name such a firm, can she tell me why the Government are soft on tax abuses by big accounting firms?

I think one of the reasons why I frustrate the noble Lord in this area is that the Government do not normally comment on individual taxpayers. On his more general point, the Government have taken action to tackle tax avoidance and evasion over many years and to reduce its incidence in our economy.

Finally, I turn to the impact of the change to the annual allowance and its potential inheritance tax impacts. Noble Lords are right that the annual allowance has meant that there has been a limit on how much individuals can put into their pensions and therefore pass on. The Government are aware of concerns that some may be using their pension pots to reduce future inheritance tax liabilities, rather than for their purpose: to fund their retirement. As with all taxes, the Government keep the rules under review.

My Lords, before the noble Baroness moves away from the lifetime allowance, I asked her if it was true that this £1 billion was funded by increased borrowing. In her summing up just now, she said very clearly that unfunded tax cuts increase inflation; those were her exact words. Is this not an unfunded tax cut?

The OBR has been clear about its forecast for the public finances, which has shown that they are more resilient than previously expected. Debt is lower in every year of the forecast compared with the November forecast. Borrowing falls year on year and the current Budget is in a surplus from 2026-27. All these decisions are taken in the round and assessed against the Government’s fiscal rules and the independent OBR’s forecasts for government borrowing and debt.

We have had a wide-ranging debate today, but if we return to the measures in the Bill, they form an essential part of our plan for the economy. They support enterprise, business investment and employment, including in the NHS. The Bill seizes the freedoms now available to the UK outside of the EU, addresses international tax avoidance and the problem it causes for the sustainability of our public finances, and will help simplify our tax system. For these reasons, I beg to move.

Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 44 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time and passed.