[2nd Allocated Day]
Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Committee and the Public Bill Committee.
New Clause 14
Entrepreneur’s Relief: value for money
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, publish a report giving HM Treasury’s assessment of the value for money provided by Entrepreneur’s Relief.
(2) The report shall have particular reference to—
(a) the cost to the Exchequer of the Relief;
(b) the number of individuals who have benefited from the Relief;
(c) the average tax deduction received by an individual as a result of the Relief; and
(d) the number of new business start-ups since introduction of the Relief.”—(Rebecca Long Bailey.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 174, page 167, line 40, leave out clause 82.
Government amendments 149 to 151.
Amendment 175, in schedule 14, page 481, line 36, at end insert—
‘(12) Section 169Z makes provision about the expiration of this Chapter.”
Amendment 176, page 499, line 15, at end insert—
“169VZ Expiration of Chapter 5 provisions
(1) The provisions of this Chapter shall remain in force until six years after their commencement and shall then expire, unless continued in force by an order under subsection (2).
(2) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument provide—
(a) that all or any of those provisions which are in force shall continue in force for a period not exceeding 12 months from the coming into operation of the order; or
(b) that all or any of those provisions which are for the time being in force shall cease to be in force.
(3) No order shall be made under subsection (2) unless—
(a) a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament,
(b) the Secretary of State has commissioned a review of the operation of Investor’s Relief and laid the report of the review before both Houses of Parliament.”
I shall speak to new clause 14 and amendments 174 to 176. Amendment 174 would remove clause 82 from the Finance Bill, thereby preventing the proposed cut to the rate of capital gains tax. The cut will reduce the basic rate of capital gains tax from 18% to 10%, and the rate on most gains made by individuals, trustees and personal representatives from 28% to 20%. Gains on residential property and carried interest will still be charged at the higher rate.
I do not want to go over old ground, but I must emphasise the Labour party’s opposition to this reduction in the rate of CGT. I thank my colleagues from other parties for joining us in our opposition. At a time when our public services are stretched to breaking point, the NHS is on its knees, our education sector is over-stretched, housing is in a state of complete crisis, people across the UK are being forced to use food banks, some mothers are going hungry because they cannot afford to feed their children and themselves, and the wider economy is in desperate need of direct investment in skills, infrastructure and industry, it seems frankly absurd to give a tax break of £2.7 billion to the richest people in our society.
Let us not forget that this CGT giveaway hails from a Budget that also planned to take away billions in welfare payments from the most vulnerable people in need of state support. The Government seemed quite happy at the time of the Budget for 300,000 disabled people to lose more than £3,000 a year in their personal independence payments. In stark contrast, our own research has found that the CGT-cutting measures of the Finance Bill amount to a tax giveaway to 200,000 people of about £3,000 a year on average. I am pleased to say that due to Labour’s opposition and the support of some Members from other parties, the worst has not yet happened in relation to PIP, but that still does not justify this policy decision in the Bill. Labour party research shows that just 0.3% of the population will benefit, with those taxpayers likely to benefit to the largest degree being in London and the south-east. If the Government do not accept our evidence, perhaps they will listen to the Resolution Foundation, which said that the CGT cut was
“focused on those on higher incomes—unsurprisingly because in general better off households are the ones making capital gains in the first place.”
The hon. Lady makes a compelling case. One of the major challenges we face in the UK is geographical and individual wealth polarisation. Based on what she says about where the likely beneficiaries of this tax system would be, what does she think that the policy will do to tackle the great challenge of wealth polarisation that we face?
I certainly do not think that it will address the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises—quite the opposite, in fact.
The Prime Minister herself made the following commitment to the British public on the steps of Downing Street:
“The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.”
Going back on this policy today would be a good place to start.
I note the hon. Gentleman’s point and thank him for making it.
If I could see some real benefit to the wider economy or society in these proposals, or if times were good for everybody, perhaps I could understand the Government’s rationale for making such cuts to capital gains tax, but as things stand these proposals are not driven by the interests of the nation as a whole, but to be enjoyed only by the privileged few. I urge all hon. Members to vote with us to remove these cuts from the Bill because the provision simply has unfairness at its very core.
Speaking of policies for the privileged few, new clause 14 would require the Chancellor to publish a report giving the Treasury’s assessment of the value for money provided by entrepreneurs’ relief. When entrepreneurs’ relief was discussed in the Committee of the whole House earlier this year, the then Minister said:
“officials have for some time been developing a detailed research programme designed to identify taxpayers’ motivations for using entrepreneurs’ relief, and I expect the results to be published at some point in 2017.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2016; Vol. 612, c. 236.]
It would seem opportune, then, for the Financial Secretary to accept our provision tying her down to a deadline, given that the Department is already conducting some of the research needed. The Government do not have the best track record of publishing documents when they say they will, so a deadline enshrined in legislation would help. To help the Government in this endeavour, we have listed particular reference points. The report would specifically consider the cost of the relief, the number of individuals who have benefited from it, the average tax deduction received by an individual and the number of new business start-ups since the relief was introduced.
Analysis by Tax Research UK shows that 3,000 people benefited by about £600,000 each from entrepreneurs’ relief in 2013-14, at a total cost of almost £2 billion to the Treasury. Unfortunately, the most up-to-date figures for 2014-15 are not yet available, but I suspect that similar analysis will show the same results. As I said in my remarks about clause 82, this amounts to a large sum going into the hands of the very few, and it certainly seems like an inefficient use of public funds. Of course, Labour Members are in favour of supporting entrepreneurialism wherever we find it and we want businesses to grow and flourish in the UK. However, is simply offering a massive tax break years down the line when a business is sold the best way to achieve that? Should not the Government be providing support to entrepreneurs in the early stages of their business development? How on earth could an entrepreneur know if he or she wants to sell their business further down the line, when it is only starting off, so as to factor in the benefits of this tax relief? Let us see some evidence today. I hope that the Minster will commit to taking my comments on board.
The same principle goes for investors’ relief, which is the subject of amendments 175 and 176. Those amendments would introduce a sunset clause whereby the relief would expire in six years’ time. To extend it, the Government would have to introduce secondary legislation, but in order to do so a review of investors’ relief would need to be laid before the House. When we debated a similar amendment in the Committee of the whole House, which would have brought the relief to a close after five years, the then Minister stated that the first set of data would not be available until 2020-21. We have therefore helpfully amended our amendment to suit the Government’s timetable. I hope that the Financial Secretary will now commit to this sunset provision. Without wanting to repeat the remarks I made in the earlier debate, I think that requiring a review of the scheme’s efficacy would represent good practice—for all reliefs, indeed, not just this one.
Too often, tax reliefs are provided with the admirable aim of incentivising a certain type of behaviour, but there is no analysis—published analysis, I should say—of whether the policy is achieving the desired aim. That means that the limited resources that the Government keep telling us about might be diverted away from our public services, or limits could be put on our capital spending, for reliefs that might not even be working. I will not press amendments 175 and 176 to a vote, but I really hope that the Minister will address the merits of including such provisions when future tax reliefs are introduced.
I will touch briefly on Government amendments 149 to 151, which will ensure that the upper rates of capital gains tax will apply to carried interest gains. In short, carried interest gains refer to the profits paid to investment fund managers from the fund that are classified as capital gains rather than income for tax purposes. We support the amendments.
I am sure that all hon. Members are aware of the 38 Degrees campaign on the Mayfair tax loophole, which filled up our inboxes over the weekend. I will briefly reiterate the Labour party’s position. Clause 37 provides for a tapered system of income taxation on carried interest gains received in respect of investments that are held by a fund for less than three years. As the Minister explained in Committee:
“If the average holding period is less than 36 months, the payment will be subject to income tax. If the period is more than 40 months, the payment will be subject to capital gains tax.”––[Official Report, Finance Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2016; c. 42.]
The Labour party supports that provision, but we would have liked all carried interest to be subject to income tax. We tabled an amendment in Committee that would have removed the taper completely, thereby ensuring that all carried interest was treated at 100%—in other words, taxed as if it were income. Unfortunately, the Government did not support us, but none the less we still support the steps they have taken towards closing the so-called Mayfair tax loophole.
I will press amendment 174 to a vote, because the Labour party cannot and will not agree to a measure that benefits so few by so much. We will divide the House to prevent the unfair cut to capital gains tax from going ahead.
I know that when I mention the word “investor” in this House, some Opposition Members get a little a bit excited: their pupils dilate, their pulses quicken and their minds race with images of plutocrats rolling the dice of financial speculation. The reality, however, is a little different. I have spent my own career investing in businesses, and in this country private equity-backed businesses now account for almost 1 million people in employment. The latest research shows that in the run-up to the last crisis, those companies’ sales, investment in research and development, and, indeed, exports grew at a faster rate than the national average.
Furthermore, I am sure that everyone in the House would welcome more money for charities, more research funds for scientists, more scholarships for students who need them and lower insurance premiums, and that is indeed what the private equity industry delivers. The funds that private equity companies manage benefit all of us through university endowments, charitable foundations, pension funds and the floats of insurance companies. When the private equity industry does well, the pensioner, the scientific researcher and the scholar from a disadvantaged background all benefit.
This is a Finance Bill from a Government who value their investors and will not demonise an industry, and who know that no contribution, however great, should be allowed to skew the scales of social justice. The clauses that involve changes to carried interest will ensure that the rewards that investment managers receive for their efforts are taxed not only correctly, but fairly. The clauses will introduce a 40-month holding period to ensure that capital gains tax treatment is reserved for genuinely long-term investments, as it should be. I know that Members on both sides of the House support the welcome change to remove the base cost shift loophole, which allowed costs to be advantageously offset against gains. The Bill will also consolidate Government action on disguised fee income that was introduced in the last Finance Bill and ensure that fund managers are paying income tax when appropriate. All in all, the measures will raise in the order of £200 million in the next financial year.
Those new arrangements are not only fair for British taxpayers and society; they will also ensure that we remain competitive internationally. Our general treatment of carried interest, which has been the subject of much debate in this House and various Committees, is actually in line with the treatment carried out in the United States, Germany, Australia and France. All those countries agree with the notion that carried interest is capital in nature and should be treated as such. If we look across Europe, we will see that our rate for carried interest will sit in the middle of those for comparable countries: it will be a little bit above that in Switzerland and Germany, and a little bit below that in France.
The clauses reflecting changes to capital gains tax will ensure that the UK remains a pro-enterprise, pro-growth nation. Small and medium-sized businesses of the kinds that I used to invest in account for more than half of private sector employment in the UK. They are responsible for three quarters of all jobs created since 2008, yet I know from first hand that small and medium-sized British enterprises still struggle to attract enough equity capital to grow. Adjusted for GDP, the size of the UK’s venture capital market is a seventh of that of the United States. Just 3% of British companies manage to expand from three employees up to 10, which is half the rate in America.
When I hear about changes to capital gains tax rates, I think about how they will benefit all those small businesses, helping them get the capital they need to grow and to increase investment and employment. Indeed, investors’ relief and the other changes to capital gains tax included in the Bill will build on the success of the seed enterprise investment scheme, the enterprise investment scheme, the funding for lending scheme and the British Business Bank, all of which are providing British companies with the capital that is necessary for growth.
The changes will ensure that Britain remains a competitive prospect for investment without compromising Government revenue. The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) mentioned the state of our finances and the need for revenue. I am sure that she welcomes the fact that the Office for Budget Responsibility projects that capital gains receipts will top £7 billion this year and increase to £9 billion next year, which is higher than in any other year in the past decade and a half. Rather than being a sweet deal for the rich, our capital gains tax rate actually sits in the middle of the OECD league tables of capital gains tax rates. Ten countries have rates of 0%, and our rate of 20% will sit two points above the average.
As we contemplate leaving the European Union, it will be vital that Britain’s economy remains dynamic, open and competitive to attract the investment we need and maximise the opportunities afforded to us. The clauses relating to capital gains tax and carried interest will ensure that the UK does exactly that, and I will support them later today.
I want to speak to the Labour party’s new clause 14 and amendment 174, which, as has been ably pointed out by the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), would remove clause 82 and the increased nil-rate band for inheritance tax.
I will focus first on the entrepreneurs’ relief proposed by new clause 14, which makes a key point about the lack of Government transparency. When UK Governments of all colours introduce a tax change, they often do not return with the evidence to show that the policy has worked. They will implement the policy and say that it is wonderful, but they will not bring back the proof. The Minister was asked yesterday how many companies have benefited from the loan guarantee fund in relation to oil and gas, but she was unable to provide a detailed answer. I do not know whether she just did not have the answer at her fingertips or whether the Government have not actually sat down and worked it out. If Governments are going to make grand claims about what they are doing and how good their policies are, they really need to bring back their work and show it to us.
It is important, particularly in relation to entrepreneurial relief, to point out that the last thing we want is an economy where there are quick-fire gains. One of the criticisms of the tax treatment in the area of private equity and venture capital is that there have been too many incentives for people to sell out too quickly.
The corollary of that surely must be that if an entrepreneurs’ relief is designed to encourage entrepreneurs to hang on to their businesses in the longer term, it is difficult for the Treasury to bring back, in a shortish period of time, figures that suggest that a scheme has been a success. We have to look at the general tenor of an economy such as the UK. To that extent, I think that positive changes are being proposed, but I do not think that it is realistic or fair to expect the Treasury to come back in double-quick time and say, “This has been a great success.”
To be fair, the new clause does not ask the Treasury to come back in such a short time; it asks for a six-month review period. Instead of just saying that they will not do a review, the Government could quite easily say, “We will do a review, but we will do it in 18 months.” I would find that acceptable. I would like to see how the schemes are working. I am not necessarily saying that any of them are particularly bad, but the Government need to come back with their workings and tell us how those things are performing.
The UK tax system is incredibly, massively complicated, and there are tax reliefs and taxes for all sorts of things. I am not convinced that the majority of them are working as they were intended to, particularly those put in place 20 or 25 years ago. The whole thing needs looking at, and considering individual things is a sensible place to start. The new clause is about Government transparency, and anything we can to do increase Government transparency around tax reliefs, in particular, is great. It would be very good if the Government considered this for some point in the future, even if not exactly in the terms suggested.
The other thing I want to talk about is inheritance tax. The Conservative manifesto said that the party intended to
“take the family home out of tax for all but the richest”.
As I mentioned in Committee, I have a real issue with regarding £1 million homes, or homes that are worth close to £1 million, as normal family homes and not the preserve of the very richest. In Scotland, the average sale price in 2015 for a detached house was £238,000. In Edinburgh, which is at the higher end of the market in terms of price, the detached average sale price was £382,778. Those are detached homes—not family homes, necessarily—so they are specifically at the higher end of the market. In the most expensive place in Scotland to buy, we are looking at homes costing £382,778.
I have been looking at what someone could get for £1 million. In Orkney—fair enough, it is probably not the best example—they could get a six-bedroom home with an attached three-bedroom lodge and a guest wing for less than £1 million. Nobody would call that a normal family home. In Ayr, they could get a 10-bedroom detached category B listed mansion for less than £1 million. Also in Ayr, they could get a six-bedroom home, which seems relatively modest, in these terms, with a swimming pool for under £1 million. None of those could be classed as normal family homes. They are, in the main, homes that have been inherited—[Interruption.] Very few people will have just picked up these homes.
The other thing that the Conservatives said in their manifesto was, essentially, “You have worked hard for your money; we would like you to keep it.” The vast majority of the homes in question will not be first-generation owned. They will have been sold by the second or third generation because they have been owned by the family for a long time. They are not, by any stretch of the imagination, normal family homes. Even in the centre of Edinburgh someone could manage to get an eight-bedroom, detached, very large house for £1 million, and that is the most expensive place in Scotland to buy a home.
The problem—this applies to a huge amount of the Conservative manifesto—is that the Conservatives think that what happens in the south-east of England is normal for the rest of the UK. It is not normal for the rest of the UK. I know that the south-east is where the majority of the population are based, but some thought needs to be given to this. Members will expect me to say this as a Scottish National party politician who supports independence, but if decisions were made closer to home, they would be more appropriate for people in Scotland.
I appreciate that my constituency is hardly typical as far as these matters are concerned —nor, indeed, is the Minister’s constituency on the other side of the river—but the logic of what the hon. Lady is saying is that we should move towards a regionalised tax system. I guess that she would quite like it to be a nationalised system, with the nation beginning on the other side of Hadrian’s Wall, but does she not recognise that the Barnett formula gives particular incentives to the nations of the United Kingdom, rather than to London and the south-east? I can understand the irritation that she feels about the fact that perhaps too much thinking is done for London and the south-east, but £1 million buys virtually nothing not only in my constituency but in many of the 73 constituencies in London, as well as those in the home counties. Short of regionalising our tax system, surely this is, at least, a sensible step forward to ensuring that those who have been able to bring up a family in a home are not forced to sell the home when a relative dies.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Perhaps we need to think about having differential policies across the UK, and possibly further devolution. That would be fantastic, and if he wants to support us in that cause, he is welcome to join us at any time.
This policy highlights a major difference between the south-east of England and the rest of the UK. The problem with Government being so far from people who are outside London is that policies are made for the benefit of the majority of the population—the people who live around here. That is really unfortunate for people in the north of England and in Wales, because the policies made by the national Government do not make sense for us.
I will not take another intervention; I am sorry. I just want to mention briefly the Prime Minister’s statement that she will take “bold action” on tax. We have a big problem—we will still have a big problem after the changes that will be made by the Finance Bill, including the tax changes that we discussed yesterday—with the lack of parity and fairness in tax. Nurses, carers and people who work in all sorts of professions pay 20% tax. I acknowledge that the personal allowance has been raised, and that is very much appreciated, but those people pay the tax that is due on the majority of their income.
There are still too many loopholes in the rest of the system. I understand the point that was made about carried interest, and we need to see how that works going forward. I would love to see the Government’s working on that, and whether the policy has the effects that the Government intend. However, unearned income is still taxed at different rates from earned income. I understand the point that was made about private equity supporting our economy and supporting some of our community organisations, for example. However, the people in question are not paying the level of tax that they should be paying to the Government, so the Government do not have the funds to disburse that they should have to disburse.
We need to do something a bit more radical than tinkering around the edges. We need to look at making changes that actually bring about parity. We need to look at ensuring that the people who are making the megabucks in the City of London pay at least as much tax, and as high a percentage of tax, as our nurses and carers pay.
I will speak briefly in favour of amendment 151 on carried interest. In my time as a Member of Parliament, I have sometimes been critical of elements of the tax regime that applies in the private equity and venture capital world. It seems to me that the generous tax regime, although it has been justified to support entrepreneurs, has often been misused by those in the industry—inadvertently; I am not suggesting that anything untoward or nefarious has taken place. I believe that many in the private equity field have, particularly in good times, in effect been financiers rather than risk takers. As such, it would surely be more equitable for their rewards to be treated more like income than capital gains. That has been at the heart of the whole debate about carried interest.
The Government have been aware of this issue. Let us give them some credit for that. To some extent, we are trying to play catch-up on it. Inevitably, there has been controversy about the treatment of private equity firms’ carried interest, which is levied as a capital gain, rather than as income. There was a time—pre-2010—when the difference between those two things was rather greater than it is today. That may be because capital gains tax has been raised, but the starkness of the problem is to some extent less pronounced now than it was during the time of the last Labour Administration in the noughties.
It is clear that the Treasury is doing the right thing in trying to provide a more favourable regime that is intended to reward genuine entrepreneurs. In principle, that must mean that where carried interest looks like income, it should be treated as such for taxation purposes. That is what we are slowly doing with amendment 151.
It has, but there is a distinction between different elements of carried interest, and we are trying to get to the bottom of that. To be brutally honest, in the longer term I would be much happier to have a regime in which we treated capital gains and income identically. There would not then be any sense in trying to arbitrage one way or the other. In many ways, perhaps inadvertently, the coalition began to move in that direction.
I am sorry that I was not in the Chamber to hear the whole speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), but he is absolutely right. Private equity has had a bad rap because of certain high-profile concerns—partly because of the misuse of tax to allow huge amounts of debt on to balance sheets—but a large number of businesses in each and every one of our 650 constituencies in the UK benefit from having private equity investors. Many jobs now exist because of the private equity investment that has come into play, particularly in growing businesses that will make a real difference in the future. The Government have broadly got this right, although I am sure we will have to come back and look at it again.
I would make one point to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman). It is not about inheritance tax—we have had our joust on that—but on a more fundamental point, on which I think she is absolutely right: the more complicated a tax code, the more the door is open to tax avoidance of all descriptions. We very urgently need to begin to simplify our tax code. We will add yet more pages to it today. A lot of them are to apply Elastoplast in ways that we can all support for individual reasons, but we need to get back to the principles of a much simpler tax system.
I believe that one of the impacts of leaving the European Union will be not a race to the bottom in lowering tax, but a much simpler tax system. This is a wake-up call for all of us in the House—obviously, particularly for those in the Treasury—to have a much simpler tax code. Such a code will be readily understandable and supported by all our constituents, which is one of the issues we face. It will also say to those bringing in much of the inward investment that will come to the UK from across the globe that we have a simple tax code, which will not be tinkered with in successive Finance Bills because it is very straightforward, and they will be able to work on that basis. I know that may be wishful thinking—going back many years, most Chancellors have talked about having a simpler tax code—but this now needs to be looked at urgently. Urgent attention must be paid to getting simplicity. If we do not do so, we will all very much pay the price.
I entirely echo the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about simplification. I may attempt to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, to address the House on that issue later. However, I caution him against linking that to Brexit, because almost all the complications, of which there are many in what we now call the tax code, are due to domestic legislation and are nothing to do with the European Union. Brexit may afford us an opportunity to start at the bottom on various areas of Government policy and endeavour, but leaving the EU will not provide such an opportunity in this case.
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman does not know me, or indeed the Minister, well enough to know that we are both very much on the pro-European wing of our party. I was not in any way blaming the EU. I was simply trying to make the point that, in looking to get a new set of trade arrangements with dozens of countries across the globe, we should not rush headlong into making lower corporation tax the incentive for companies. One of the big factors for them will be the sense that there is a simpler and more straightforward tax code in the United Kingdom, and that will make us open for business in the way that we have traditionally been open for business during the past 200 to 300 years.
The Floor of the House of Commons is not the place on which to make such a policy, but I very much hope that we will keep this very firmly in mind. There is now an urgent case for having a more straightforward tax system, even if it is one that only says what we are aiming to achieve. It will obviously be difficult to unravel tax benefits created in the past. I accept that it will be difficult to unravel all the reliefs, not least because entrepreneurs in the future, like those in the past, will want to rely on them in making investment decisions.
The right hon. Gentleman is making some very important points about simplification and its impact in ensuring that measures work in the way intended. Does he agree that simplification and clarification of the objectives of reliefs would go a long way to making sure that small enterprises or first-time entrepreneurs could understand and gain greater access to the available reliefs, which may be intended for them but are perhaps used by others with greater experience?
I am sure there is a lot of truth in that. I was a businessman before I entered the House. It was a relatively straightforward business, based in the City of London, in the service industry, so there were not a huge number of reliefs available, although it may well be that 20 years of additional pages of the tax code have made it even more bloody complicated than it was for those working in and setting up businesses in the 1990s. I agree with the hon. Lady. Again, getting rid of reliefs and making the system more straightforward is the right way forward. Rather than having a whole lot of reliefs to recommend to would-be entrepreneurs, let us try to cut down the whole thicket.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I have spoken for long enough. I almost veered off the subject, but had I done so, I am sure you would have been the first to stand up and say so. I very much hope that amendment 151, among others, will be supported. It is definitely a move in the right direction, although I am sure we will have to come back to the issue of carried interest in the future.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, which was opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), on the new clause and amendments relating to capital gains tax. I will speak particularly about new clause 14, on “Entrepreneur’s Relief: value for money”, amendment 174, which would remove the capital gains tax cut, and amendments 175 and 176 on the investors’ relief sunset clause. Labour’s main issue of contention with the Government is the reduction of capital gains tax, the reasons for which have been well outlined. I want to highlight the very serious issue of value for money in public finances, and to continue to make our call for the Government to look at the way in which we scrutinise and review tax reliefs.
As we have argued since the Budget, the Finance Bill is inadequate if we are to rise to the challenges we face and to work towards a very strong economy in which we can all feel and believe that prosperity is shared by all. At a very tough time for the public finances, the Government have chosen to prioritise a corporation tax cut and a capital gains tax cut. Certainly while working on the Finance Bill, including as shadow Chief Secretary, I have had several conversations with business figures who quite openly said that they did not necessarily expect a corporation tax cut while other issues that are so important for their business success—investment in skills, housing, infrastructure and superfast broadband, and ensuring that we get the productivity shifts this country so desperately needs—require great attention. To purport that there is a simplistic link between a capital gains tax cut and a strong enterprise and investment culture is therefore not very honest, because it has not been proven that the cut is either necessary or sufficient to achieve that outcome, which we do indeed want.
Let us not forget that at the last Budget, the OBR took all the Chancellor’s measures into account and still downgraded the business investment forecasts. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics estimate that business investment decreased by 0.8% between the second quarter of 2015 and the second quarter of 2016. Therefore, it continues to be a concern that the Government’s economic strategy does not take into account the wider needs of businesses beyond tax cuts.
It is the context of squeezed public services and lack of investment that leads me to raise the issue of tax reliefs, particularly those pertaining to capital gains tax, and the way in which we understand the needs of businesses. Tax reliefs are an important part of our tax system and have been needed for a variety of reasons, many of them extremely valid. However, after six years of this Government’s failure on the economy, in so many ways, with many people feeling the brunt of the cuts and with our public services under considerable strain, every penny of public spending should be going on much needed investment in our schools and hospitals and on supporting the most vulnerable. The figures got even worse this summer, with more than a third of children leaving school without the equivalent of five good GCSEs, and schools in my constituency tell me that they are giving out money every day to help parents buy school uniforms and shoes. We therefore need to justify every penny that is spent by the Exchequer.
That also has to apply to every penny that is not collected. Tax reliefs are effectively tax forgone. I firmly believe that we need to apply just as much scrutiny to relief as we do to expenditure. That is not to say that I am opposed to tax reliefs to incentivise good and positive business behaviours—far from it. For me, providing behavioural incentives to achieve economic and social goals is a central part of the role of Government, but they must use effective judgment that is based on the interests of fairness and prosperity. A Government who are working in strategic partnership with business and industry in the interests of the economy and society will actively consider such measures.
However, there is a serious paucity of scrutiny of whether and to what extent various tax reliefs are achieving those goals and whether they remain value for money for the taxpayer. The HMRC website lists 405 tax reliefs in the UK, but in reality there are many more. The Office of Tax Simplification has identified 1,140 tax reliefs. Of the 405 tax reliefs listed by HMRC, 102 cost more than £50 million, 84 cost under £50 million and there are 219 for which HMRC does not provide cost data.
Does my hon. Friend agree that of all those reliefs, the biggest scandal is tax relief on pension contributions, which costs more than £30 billion a year in forgone revenue and principally goes to the most well-off? For years, the Department for Work and Pensions has had no evidence that that tax relief produces a change in behaviour that results in more people making pension contributions. We are, in effect, handing out a lot of money mostly, but not entirely, to a lot of rich people to get them to do something, when there is no evidence that it does so.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The conundrum of how we fund, finance and incentivise pension savings needs to be thought about much more holistically. He highlights an example of incentives that reach not the majority, but a minority. We must keep that under review.
The Public Accounts Committee took forward the work of the National Audit Office on these issues and took evidence. Its report found that some reliefs
“costing some £100 billion a year, are designed to deliver a policy objective that could be met instead through spending programmes”,
which would be more rigorous and more auditable. The report states that
“HM Treasury and…HMRC do not keep track of those tax reliefs intended to influence behaviour. They do not adequately report to Parliament or the public on whether reliefs are working as intended and what they cost and whether they represent good value for money.”
Nothing has really changed since the report was published last year. That is why Labour continues to raise this issue during the passage of the Finance Bill.
We need to question the efficacy of tax reliefs such as capital gains tax relief and entrepreneurs’ qualifying business disposals, or entrepreneurs’ relief. There are clear reasons for entrepreneurs’ relief and it can be argued that it incentivises investment, but does it make a great enough difference to be worth £3 billion a year to the Exchequer? I do not claim to have all the answers, but we do need evidence to prove that it makes that difference and the Government need to be challenged to justify this and other reliefs.
In Committee of the whole House, the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury defended entrepreneurs’ relief and, as usual, did so without evidence, saying:
“of course, as with all tax reliefs, it is entirely appropriate that the Government keep it under review to ensure that it is well targeted and not open to abuse”.—[Official Report, 28 June 2016; Vol. 612, c. 245.]
I challenge the Government to say when they will do that. New clause 14 would make the Government and all of us turn those warm words into action.
Furthermore, the Finance Bill introduces a new relief, investors’ relief, which extends the low rate of capital gains tax to investors in an unlimited trading company for at least three years. In principle, I support the idea of a relief that is intended to incentivise investment and to support access to capital for businesses, particularly at an early stage in a business’s life cycle, if we can provide evidence that it will help turn those with initial ideas into the successful job creators and innovators of the future. That is extremely important in creating the economy of the future, with all the opportunities that new technology and other initiatives can bring.
However, it concerns me that this could end up being yet another tax relief that is introduced for a good reason, but then left to mushroom into a relief that is extremely expensive and difficult to remove. We need a mechanism to ensure that there is time to review whether it is achieving the desired effect, whether the costs are aligned to those that are forecast and whether it constitutes value for money. For that reason, I support the sunset clause for the relief in Labour’s amendment 176, which would ensure that after a number of years, when we have the evidence on which to base our conclusions, those questions will not go unanswered.
I call on the House and the new Treasury Ministers to take seriously our scrutiny of tax reliefs and to support the Opposition amendments, which would put in place proper mechanisms for reviewing the reliefs and ensure that they remain targeted at supporting businesses, while showing evidence of value for money.
I will start by outlining the Government amendments in the group before responding to some of the points that have been made by hon. Members in what has been a thoughtful debate. As a new Treasury Minister, I have found a number of the speeches good food for thought as I look forward to a series of meetings into the autumn.
On Government amendments 149 to 151, the Finance Bill provides an incentive for people to invest in companies by reducing the main rates of capital gains tax from 18% to 10% and 28% to 20% on most gains made by individuals, trustees and personal representatives. We announced at the Budget that the 28% and 18% rates would continue to apply for carried interest. That is justified by the fact that carried interest is a performance-related award that is hybrid in nature, with characteristics that distinguish it from most other types of capital gain, as was alluded to by some hon. Members. We recently learned that it is possible to create an investment fund structure generating carried interest that, under clause 82 as it stands, would be taxed at 20% or 10%. That would clearly be unfair and contrary to policy. The amendments therefore ensure that the continuing 28% and 18% rates apply to all forms of carried interest.
I welcome the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) for the general approach that we are taking in a number of measures in the Bill and in particular for his comments on this matter and the knowledge of it that he brings to the House. I also welcome the support of the Opposition Front-Bench team for the amendments, which we feel strike a sensible balance.
Labour’s amendment 174 would delete clause 82 in its entirety. The lower rates of capital gains tax introduced by the clause make it more attractive for people to invest in companies, helping those companies access the capital they need to grow and create jobs. The changes are part of this Government’s efforts to ensure that our tax system is competitive—never more important than now, as we head into a new future outside the EU—and encourages investment, which will help drive our economy forward into that new future. At 28%, our higher rate of capital gains tax was among the highest in the developed world. We do not want high tax rates to deter investment.
That point has been made repeatedly. Contributions from those critical of the policy often miss the way in which measures interact. We are trying to create a climate that encourages investment. A number of international studies have indicated that low rates of CGT support equity investment in firms and promote higher-quality investment in start-ups. That is an important source of innovation and growth. The evidence is there. The measures are part of a package that is trying to create a climate that makes our country attractive to invest in and enables domestic investors to invest in company growth. At the same time, as we have stressed and as other measures in the Bill stress, taxes must be fair and must be paid; the hon. Gentleman took part in a good debate last night about some of those measures.
A number of external bodies have expressed support for clause 82—that also goes to the hon. Gentleman’s point. The CBI and the Institute of Economic Affairs have both welcomed the cuts as a means of encouraging entrepreneurship and growth, and, as I have said, there is a body of evidence, not least internationally, to indicate that lower rates support equity investment in firms and promote higher-quality investment in start-ups. Again, I welcome the support of and international perspective given by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) on this subject.
The changes made by clause 82 are about encouraging investment where we want businesses to expand. As I have said, they are very much a part of a general pro-business agenda, but we have also been clear that we want fair and competitive taxes and that taxes must be paid. We addressed that in a good debate last night, when there was a good degree of cross-party consensus.
The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) mentioned the geographical distribution of the CGT cut. HMRC publishes national statistics on CGT each year that include a breakdown of its payers by geographical distribution, so there is transparency on that. It is also worth saying that it has been estimated that up to 130,000 individuals will pay lower taxes as a direct result of these changes to CGT, including 50,000 basic rate taxpayers.
The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) made a typically thoughtful speech, not just on CGT but on her general thoughts on tax reliefs and how we review them, as well as on tax simplification. Again, I felt that she did not perhaps entirely address the interaction between the various measures—they cannot be seen in isolation. The other issues she mentioned are hugely important; for example, the investment in skills, but I did not think she was fair about what the Government have done on that agenda, which has resulted in record levels of apprenticeships. She is right to say that there are other issues such as that one, but these measures are part of a general package and are not the whole picture.
Amendments 175 and 176 were also tabled by the Opposition. In the 2016 Budget we announced the introduction of investors’ relief, benefiting long-term investors in unlisted companies. As has been explained, the amendments seek to end that new relief after a period of six years, with the option of an additional 12-month extension if agreed by both Houses, and ask the Chancellor to lay a review of the operation of the relief before both Houses.
The amendments are unnecessary as the Government keep all tax policy under review in line with normal tax policy making practice. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) again, I thought, did not really give credit to the interaction of different measures nor to the wider point that, given that the Government are bringing the measures forward to stimulate economic growth, there is absolutely no incentive for us not to keep a very close eye on them and review them at regular intervals. We do so all the time because we want measures to work—we want our measures to stimulate economic activity, and we do not in any way want them not to work. Indeed, there are a number of measures in the Bill to correct things that have been done in the past, where we feel that an improvement could make something work better.
We feel that there would be limited merit in conducting a review within six years as the first data on the uptake of the relief in its first year of operation will not be available to HMRC until 2021. Amendments 175 and 176 are neither needed nor useful, and we ask the Opposition not to press them to a vote.
New clause 14, again tabled by the Opposition, proposes that the Chancellor publish, within six months of the passing of the Bill, a report of the Treasury’s assessment of the value for money provided by entrepreneurs’ relief. As I have just said, the Government keep all tax policy under review because we want it to do what we have set out as the intention behind it, namely to stimulate economic activity and to make investment in business attractive to people. That review includes entrepreneurs’ relief, as demonstrated by recent action taken to ensure that the relief is effective, well targeted and not open to abuse. We will continue to act, where appropriate.
My predecessor as Financial Secretary has already informed the House of this, but it is worth reiterating, as it is germane to this point, that HMRC officials have commissioned an in-depth survey of taxpayers’ reasons for using entrepreneurs’ relief and its effects on behaviour. We expect the results of that survey, which will be published at some point in 2017, to inform future changes to the relief. I hope that that gives Members some comfort that the relief is being looked at very closely.
In our wider debate, some general points were made about the Budget being tilted towards the south-east of England. A number of points could be made in rebuttal, not least the debate we had last night, which touched on support for the oil and gas sector in Scotland. More generally, some interesting points were made about having a simpler tax system. In the next part of our debate on the Bill, there will be an opportunity to discuss the Office of Tax Simplification, but as this point came up during the current debate it is worth noting that the Bill puts the OTS on a statutory footing. Around half of the OTS’s 400 or so recommendations to date have already been taken on board. I again take on board the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field). I feel sure that this a topic that we will return to over the coming months and years.
I thank all Members who have spoken in the debate.
Reduction in rate of capital gains tax
Amendments made: 149, page 167, line 42, leave out “(11)” and insert “(11A)”.
Amendment 150, page 168, leave out line 14 and insert—
“(c) carried interest gains (see subsections (12) and (13)).”
Amendment 151, page 169, line 4, at end insert—
‘(11A) After subsection (11) insert—
(12) In subsection (2A)(c) “carried interest gains” means—
(a) gains treated as accruing under section 103KA(2) or (3), and
(b) gains accruing to an individual as a result of carried interest arising to the individual where—
(i) the individual performs investment management services directly or indirectly in respect of an investment scheme under arrangements not involving a partnership,
(ii) the carried interest arises to the individual under the arrangements, and
(iii) the carried interest does not constitute a co-investment repayment or return.
(13) For the purposes of subsection (12)(b)—
(a) “carried interest”, in relation to any arrangements, has the same meaning as in section 809EZB of ITA 2007 (see sections 809EZC and 809EZD of that Act);
(b) carried interest “arises” to an individual if it arises to him or her for the purposes of Chapter 5E of Part 13 of ITA 2007;
(c) “arrangements”, “investment management services” and “investment scheme” have the same meanings as in that Chapter (see sections 809EZA(6) and 809EZE of that Act);
(d) “co-investment repayment or return” has the same meaning as in section 103KA.”—(Jane Ellison.)
New Clause 9
Tax treatment of supplementary welfare payments: Northern Ireland
‘(1) In this section “supplementary welfare payment” means a payment made under regulations under—
(a) Article 135(1)(a) of the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015 (S.I. 2015/2006 (N.I. 1)) (“the Order”) (discretionary support),
(b) Article 137 of the Order (payments to persons suffering financial disadvantage), or
(c) any provision (including future provision) of the Order which enables provision to be made for payments to persons who suffer financial disadvantage as a result of relevant housing benefit changes.
(2) In subsection (1)(c) “relevant housing benefit changes” means changes to social security benefits consisting of or including changes contained in the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 (S.R. (N.I.) 2016 No. 258).
(3) The Treasury may by regulations amend any provision of Chapters 1 to 5 of Part 10 of ITEPA 2003 so as to—
(a) provide that no liability to income tax arises on supplementary welfare payments of a specified description;
(b) impose a charge to income tax under Part 10 of ITEPA 2003 on payments of a specified description made under regulations under Article 137 of the Order (payments to persons suffering financial disadvantage).
(4) The regulations may make—
(a) different provision for different cases;
(b) incidental or supplementary provision;
(c) consequential provision (which may include provision amending any provision made by or under the Income Tax Acts).
(5) Regulations made before 6 April 2017 may, so far as relating to the tax year 2016-17, have effect in relation to times before they are made.
(6) Regulations under this section are to be made by statutory instrument.
(7) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of the House of Commons.
(8) In section 655(2) of ITEPA 2003 (other provisions about the taxation of social security payments) after the entry relating to section 782 of ITTOIA 2005 insert “;
section (Tax treatment of supplementary welfare payments: Northern Ireland) of FA 2016 (tax treatment of supplementary welfare payments: Northern Ireland).””
section (Tax treatment of supplementary welfare payments: Northern Ireland) of FA 2016 (tax treatment of supplementary welfare payments: Northern Ireland).””
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New Clause 2
Review of the impact of the duty regime for high-strength cider
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must carry out a review of the impact of the rate of duty charged on sparkling cider of a strength exceeding 5.5%, and lay the report of the review before both Houses of Parliament within 12 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent.
(2) The review must address (though need not be limited to) the impact of the duty regime on tax revenues and on the consumption of alcohol.”
New Clause 3
Review of the operation of the transferable tax allowance for married couples and civil partners
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must carry out a review of the operation of the transferable tax allowance for married couples and civil partners under Chapter 3A of Part 3 of the Income Tax Act 2007 and lay the report of the review before both Houses of Parliament within 12 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent.
(2) The review must address (though need not be limited to)—
(a) levels of take-up of the allowance;
(b) the impact of the allowance on individuals with children aged five years or under;
(c) the impact of the allowance on low-income households; and
(d) ways in which the allowance could be changed to target low-income families with young children.”
New Clause 6
VAT treatment of the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service
The Chancellor of the Exchequer must commission a review of the VAT treatment of the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, including but not limited to an analysis of the impact on the financial position of Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service arising from their VAT treatment and an estimate of the change to their financial position were they eligible for a refund of VAT under section 33 of the VAT Act 1994, and must publish the report of the review within six months of the passing of this Act.”
New Clause 8
Review of changes to tax on dividend income
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must commission a review of how the changes to the tax on dividend income implemented by this Act affect directors of micro-business companies, to include—
(a) the impacts across the distribution of such directors’ net income;
(b) the impact on company failure rates; and
(c) options for amending the law to minimise the impact on such directors who are on low incomes.
(2) The Chancellor must lay a report of the review before both Houses of Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act.”
New Clause 15
VAT on Installation of Energy Saving Materials
‘(1) No order shall be made under the Value Added Tax Act 1994 which would have the effect of raising the rate of VAT on installation of energy saving materials, or any individual category thereof.
(2) No order shall be made under the Value Added Tax Act 1994 to vary Schedule 7A of that Act by deleting or varying any description of supply within Group 2 (Installation of Energy Saving Materials).
(3) “Installation of energy saving materials” has the meaning given in Schedule 7A of the Value Added Tax Act 1994.””
New Clause 16
Review of impact of tax measures on intergenerational fairness
‘(1) Within six months of the passage of this Act the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report assessing the impact of —
(a) Sections 1 to 3,
(b) Sections 19 to 22,
(c) Section 82,
(d) Sections 92 to 96, and
(e) Section 140
on the burden of taxation by age demographic.
(2) A report under this section must include an analysis of the proportion of taxation paid by working age people under the age of 35.”
New Clause 18
Impact of section 24 of Finance (No 2) Act 2015 on availability of affordable housing
The Chancellor of the Exchequer must commission a review of the impact of changes relating to income tax made by Section 24 of the Finance Act 2015 on the availability of affordable housing, and lay the report of the review before both Houses of Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act.”
New Clause 19
Distributional analysis of the impact of taxation measures
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of the measures introduced by this Act on households at different levels of income, and lay before each House of Parliament the report of that review within six months of this Act coming into force.
(2) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of government fiscal measures on households at different levels of income at least once in each calendar year, and lay before each House of Parliament a report on each review.”
Government amendments 132 to 134, 146 to 148 and 135.
Amendment 179, clause 99, page 185, line 20, at end insert—
“(c) “earning” do not include any amounts that constitute qualifying bonus payments within the meaning of section 312B of the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003.”
Government amendment 138.
Amendment 141, schedule 3, page 337, line 1, at end insert—
“Provision for small amounts of partnership share money repayable to employees to be exempt from tax if instead applied charitably
10 In section 503 of ITEPA 2003 (charge on partnership share money paid over to employee), after “paragraph 55(3) (partnership share money paid over on withdrawal from partnership share agreement),” insert—
“paragraph 55(3A)(a) or (b)(i) (partnership share money paid over on withdrawal from partnership share agreement),”
11 (1) In Schedule 2 to ITEPA 2003 (share incentive plans), Part 6 (partnership shares) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 55 (withdrawal from partnership share agreement)—
(a) in sub-paragraph (3) after “as soon as practicable” insert—
“, unless the plan includes provision authorised by sub-paragraph (3A)”
(b) after sub-paragraph (3) insert—
“(3A) The plan may provide that, where an employee withdraws from a partnership share agreement—
(a) if the employee does not agree to an arrangement in accordance with sub-paragraph (b), any partnership share money held on behalf of the employee is to be paid over to the employee as soon as practicable, and
(b) with the employee’s agreement—
(i) if the partnership share money held on behalf of the employee exceeds a threshold amount of not more than £ 10 specified in the plan, the full amount must be paid over to the employee as soon as practicable, and
(ii) if the partnership share money held on behalf of the employee is equal to or less than the threshold amount referred to in sub-paragraph (b)(i), as soon as reasonably practicable, the full amount must either—
(3B) Partnership share money paid over to a charity or accumulated for that purpose under sub-paragraph (3A)(b) shall not count as employment income by reason of section 503.
(3C) While the plan includes any provision authorised by sub-paragraph (3A), the company and trustees shall make available to participants and qualifying employees at least annually an account of the total amount of partnership share money that would have been returned to employees were it not for that provision and of the related charitable donations made.
(3D) The Treasury may by order amend sub-paragraph (3A)(b)(i) by substituting for any amount for the time being specified there an amount specified in the order.””
Government amendment 139.
Amendment 180, schedule 25, page 642, line 2, at end insert—
‘(4A) The Chancellor of the Exchequer may not appoint the Chair of the OTS without the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.
(4B) The Chancellor of the Exchequer may not appoint the Tax Director of the OTS without the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.”
Amendment 181, page 642, line 40, at end insert—
‘(2A) The Chancellor of the Exchequer may not terminate the appointment of the Chair of the OTS without the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.
(2B) The Chancellor of the Exchequer may not terminate the appointment of the Tax Director of the OTS without the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.”
Amendment 182, page 643, line 3, at end insert—
“References to Treasury Committee
5A (1) Any reference in this Schedule to the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons—
(a) if the name of that Committee is changed, is to be treated as a reference to that Committee by its new name, and
(b) if the functions of that Committee (or substantially corresponding functions) become functions of a different Committee of the House of Commons, is to be treated as a reference to the Committee by which those functions are exercisable.
(2) Any question arising under sub-paragraph (1) is to be determined by the Speaker of the House of Commons.”
In this final debate, there is an array of amendments and new clauses to consider across a wide range of subjects. I am sure that we will cover a great deal of ground.
Let me first outline briefly the Government amendments, starting with Government new clause 9. To ensure fairness in the tax system, new clause 9 allows for the exemption from income tax of supplementary benefit payments funded by the Northern Ireland Executive. Government amendments 132 to 134 deal with disguised remuneration and Government amendment 139 deals with aqua methanol. Amendments 132 to 134 change the date for withdrawing a relief on returns arising from disguised remuneration for those who have not settled tax due to 1 April 2017, while amendment 139 changes the date on which the new aqua methanol duty rate comes into force to 14 November.
Government amendments 135, 146 to 148 and 138 concern venture capital trusts, the lifetime allowance and dividends respectively. They make changes to ensure that these policies work as intended.
Let me deal with the new clauses and amendments tabled by the Opposition. New clause 15, tabled by the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) and her colleagues is designed to prevent the use of secondary legislation to alter the rate of VAT applied to the installation of energy-saving materials. Since 2001, the UK has applied the 5% reduced rate of VAT to the installation of 11 different types of energy-saving materials. That reduced rate remains in place and is unchanged. The European Court of Justice ruled last year that the UK had interpreted VAT law too broadly. Following that judgment, the Government published a consultation on this particularly complex issue, and we are considering the responses. While this new clause is designed to prevent the use of secondary legislation to alter the rate of VAT applied to the installation of energy-saving materials, the tax lock legislated for by this Government already achieves the same effect. Indeed, it goes further.
As the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU said yesterday in his responses to the lengthy statement, those are all matters that will be looked at. He confirmed that he is indeed looking at it, as is the Treasury.
We feel that the tax lock goes further by preventing the use of secondary legislation to vary the scope of any reduced or zero rate. In effect, the new clause would serve no purpose except to duplicate existing legislation.
New clause 3 on the marriage allowance would place a legal requirement on the Government to carry out a review. Although I am sympathetic and have discussed the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and others who support the new clause, I hope to be able to show that such a report is unnecessary and to address some of these concerns.
Let me reiterate that the Government remain committed to recognising marriage in the tax system and to ensuring that the marriage allowance is delivered successfully. As hon. Members will be aware, take-up of this policy was initially lower than expected, but the Government have taken decisive action to change that. In spring this year, HMRC ran a successful marketing campaign to help raise awareness among eligible families, and the results were quite dramatic. Daily applications increased by a factor of seven between November 2015 and March 2016. Next month, HMRC will receive its 1 millionth successful marriage allowance application.
We are going even further. HMRC will launch a more ambitious campaign to raise awareness next month to help to continue the momentum. The Government have also assessed the distributional impact of the policy, which I know is a matter of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate. We found that a quarter of those who will benefit are households with children, and most of the benefit from the marriage allowance will go to those in the bottom half of the income distribution scale. I understand that my hon. Friend will want to make more points about this issue in his contribution. I will seek to respond, briefly if I can, at the end.
My hon. Friend has also tabled new clause 2, which proposes a review of the impact of the rate of duty charged on sparkling cider of an alcohol strength exceeding 5.5%. The concerns that he raises—he has raised them before—are important, and the Government will continue to tackle alcohol problems as a driver of crime and support people to stay healthy, building on the alcohol strategy of 2012. The Government are aware that some ciders can be associated with alcohol harm and we have already taken action. Since 2010, for example, we have required drinks to contain a minimum of 35% apple or pear juice to be defined as cider, which is designed to increase the cost of the cheap white ciders.
From my previous role as a public health Minister, I am obviously aware of the concerns about alcohol harm. Further changes to alcohol policy would need sufficiently to target cheap drinks associated with these harms, without of course penalising responsible drinkers. The Treasury is always willing to consider any evidence about how these products should be taxed. Although I do not think a legislative requirement for a review is necessary, I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend’s contribution to the debate.
Amendments 180 to 182 deal with the Office of Tax Simplification. The amendments, tabled by the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), would require appointments to or dismissals from the position of the OTS chair to be subject to the consent of the Treasury Select Committee. The OTS provides the Chancellor with independent advice on simplifying the tax system. As I alluded to in the last part of the previous debate, to ensure that the OTS continues its important work, the Government are putting it on a permanent statutory footing and increasing its powers. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), the hon. Member for Ilford North, whom I see in his place, and other members of the Treasury Select Committee for their commitment to safeguarding the independence of bodies within government and to increasing their transparency. The Government’s view is that there is a balance between ensuring that there is robust scrutiny and doing so in a way that is proportionate to the function of the OTS.
Having considered the representations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester and the hon. Member for Ilford North, the Government will ensure that the Treasury Committee is able to hold hearings with future OTS chair candidates before their appointments are formalised, and to put appointments to a vote in the House. We believe that those arrangements should be a permanent method of appointment of future OTS chairs. I do not think there is any justification for going further and legislating for a power of veto, which is what the amendments would do. I hope that members of the Treasury Committee will welcome the arrangements that I have outlined, and I invite them not to press their amendments.
I am grateful to the Minister for what she has said about the proposals. I am pleased that it has been possible to work out a compromise which I think is very reasonable all round, and which builds on the arrangements made by the former Chancellor for the appointments of the chairman and chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority earlier in the year. I see no reason why this should not form the basis for a permanent arrangement to ensure that we get the best possible candidate into the OTS, supported by Parliament, in future years.
I thank the Chairman of the Treasury Committee for his indication of support for these arrangements. As he says, we have set out a procedure for the future. I have written to him, and the Chancellor will write to him as well, to confirm that for the record.
New clause 8, tabled by members of the Scottish National party, would require the Government to review the way in which the changes in dividend tax will affect directors of microbusinesses. First, we feel that it would be impossible to deliver such a review, because information from the self-assessment process will not be available until 2018. Secondly and more fundamentally, the dividend tax changes cannot be viewed in isolation, as I pointed out in the previous debate. Small company directors will have benefited from various recent tax changes made by the Government, including cuts in corporation tax and business rates—with more to come into effect in the spring of 2017—and the introduction of the employment allowance, which has made a considerable difference to business people in my constituency to whom I have spoken and, I know, to those in other constituencies. We think that these matters must be looked at in the round, and we therefore do not feel that we can accept the new clause.
New clause 18 proposes another review, on the impact of section 24 of the summer Finance Act 2015 on affordable housing. Again, we feel that that is unnecessary. The changes made by section 24 are being implemented in a gradual and proportionate way. Only one in five landlords is expected to pay more tax, and we do not expect the changes to have a large impact on either house prices or rent levels owing to the small overall proportion of the housing market that is affected. It is worth noting that the Office for Budget Responsibility has endorsed that assessment.
I gather from my predecessors that the subject of new clause 6, which asks the Treasury to conduct
“a review of the VAT treatment of the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service”,
has arisen a number of times in the past, and I am afraid that I cannot add very much to the responses that SNP Members have heard before in the context of this and previous Finance Bills. The Treasury made it clear to the Scottish Government that the proposed changes would result in a loss of eligibility for VAT refunds. They chose to go ahead, which was their legitimate right, but there can be no expectation that we will review the issue, given that the consequences were clear beforehand.
If the United Kingdom opts for non-membership of the single market following Brexit, the UK Government—the Treasury—will be able to initiate all sorts of proposals relating to VAT, one of which may well be to devolve it to the devolved Administrations. The Scotland Act 2016 currently assigns responsibility for 50% of VAT receipts, but if the UK Government decided on the non-membership option, it would be possible to go further. Is the Treasury considering that?
As a number of Ministers have made clear in the House, we need to consider a huge range of issues as we proceed, but, as I have said, we are clear about the matter for the present. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will raise his point again during debates about our future outside the European Union.
New clause 16, tabled by Liberal Democrat Members, would require the Government to publish a review. I do not think that any Liberal Democrat Members are present, so I shall speak briefly before moving on swiftly to deal with new clauses and amendments tabled by members of other parties who are present.
The Government already undertake equality assessments of all new measures, which includes considering age as a protected characteristic. I am sure the whole House welcomes the fact that the Prime Minister has now launched an unprecedented audit of public services to reveal—among other things—racial disparities, and to look at the way in which public services serve people throughout the country. The Treasury will, of course, play its part in the audit, and no doubt some of these issues can be considered as part of that important exercise.
New clause 19 would require the Government to review the impact of measures in the Bill on different levels of income. In every Budget and autumn statement since 2010, the Treasury has published distributional analyses showing the impact of Government policy on the share of tax paid and spending received across household income distribution. Since 2010, the Government have published far more distributional analyses than their predecessors. As the Prime Minister has made clear on many occasions since taking office, we are determined to make Britain a country that works for everyone, and our policy choices and actions stand as proof of our commitment. The Government have received representations on this matter, not just from Opposition Members but from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester, on behalf of his Committee. We will consider the appropriate format of documents to be published at future fiscal events at a time closer to the date of the autumn statement.
As the Minister knows, the issue of distributional analysis is of great importance to the Committee. The previous Chancellor accepted it in 2010, but resiled from it in 2015, to the Committee’s considerable concern. On the understanding that the Chancellor really is considering reinstating the arrangements that had been in operation for the preceding five years, I would not be minded to vote for new clause 19. Am I to understand from what the Minister has said that a serious reconsideration is taking place, and that she or the Chancellor will return to the House in due course to inform us of their conclusions?
Treasury Ministers and the Chancellor take points made by my right hon. Friend and his Committee members very seriously. As I said earlier and as has been confirmed in an exchange of letters between my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor, we will consider the issue at future fiscal events closer to the date of the autumn statement. I may be able to write to my right hon. Friend with further information, but that is what I am able to say at the moment.
I thank the Minister for giving way. She is being most generous.
Yesterday, in an intervention on the speech of one of the Minister’s colleagues, I asked when we were likely to expect the very important autumn statement. The response was “some time in November, maybe December.” Can the Minister confirm that that is indeed the case?
As I have said, the date will be confirmed in due course, but I think it reasonable to assume that the window of opportunity to which the hon. Gentleman has referred is broadly correct.
I shall speak briefly—as, again, there is no Liberal Democrat presence in the Chamber—about amendment 179, which deals with the apprenticeship levy. This would exclude qualifying bonus payments to employees of employee-owned businesses from being considered as part of the employer’s pay bill when calculating the levy. To ensure the levy is as simple and fair as possible, the Government have decided to use the existing definition of earnings—those used for employers national insurance contributions. This avoids unnecessary complication. This point about avoiding complication was made repeatedly to us during the consultation. We feel the amendment would add complication and therefore we urge the House to reject it.
Lastly, Labour amendment 141 on employee share schemes proposes a tax exemption for residual cash amounts remaining in share incentive plans when they are donated to charity. While we appreciate the proposal is made with the best of intentions, we are concerned the change would, again, add complexity and the amendment lacks details. We would need further development and evidence of this idea before giving it further consideration.
I will end there, but I may look to respond briefly at the end if there are any further points I can add that would assist the House. I look forward to the debate.
I am disappointed by the Minister’s concluding remarks on amendment 141, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends. She says the amendment lacks detail. We are talking about simplification today and I will go on to address the House on that issue, but this amendment covers more than an A4 page, so there is quite a lot of it. It might be the wrong detail—I freely accept that I am not an accountant—but I cannot get my head around the concept that it lacks detail. So I am disappointed and urge her to reconsider.
I am pleased at the movement from the Government on amendment 180. It will not surprise SNP Members to know that I want to touch briefly, as the Minister did, on new clause 6. Frankly, they have made their bed and they should lie in it. They were warned that this would be the financial effect, and having an inquiry into the financial effect of something they knew was going to happen and has happened—it may be an adverse financial effect—is what you get with devolution; you make your decisions and you live with them. They should not be looking indirectly through this mechanism for yet another bung from the English taxpayer when they are already getting shed loads of money under the Barnett formula. I support the Barnett formula and the Union, but sometimes people can push their luck a bit and I think that is what is happening here since they knew in advance what would happen.
I want to make some brief remarks on the question of evidence-based decision making and the difficulties we have in that regard as policymakers and legislators in this House. That applies particularly to financial matters. Although the House of Lords scrutinises Finance Bills, it does not vote upon them for good historical reasons. It cannot, therefore, amend the Finance Bill and we have to get it right here.
Oppositions cannot table amendments to put up taxes and it has become commonplace in recent years to table amendments to express concern and call for a review. That has been the mechanism used by those who take issue with a particular course of action, or lack of a course of action rather than moving amendments to abolish something, as the Liberal Democrats extraordinarily did yesterday with their amendment to abolish corporation tax, which, as the Minister said, would cost £43 billion a year. In this group, new clauses 3, 6, 8, 16, 17, 18 and 19 all call for a review, as did new clause 14 and amendment 176 which were debated previously. It is the flavour of the day.
This highlights a problem that the Minister addressed in her concluding remarks in the previous debate. We have at the moment an economy with extraordinarily good unemployment figures, and I praise the Government for that. That figure has come down, and we have had 2.5 million more jobs in the past six years. That is great, but it has been bought on a sea of debt, with the deficit going up 60% under a Government who said that they were imposing austerity in order to bring public finances under control. They are still not under control.
We have a mounting deficit. We have crumbling infrastructure and services, where we are storing up problems for the future. Prosaically, if we drive around lots of towns in England—I do not know about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but I suspect the situation may be the same—we see crumbling roads because local authorities are cutting back on filling in potholes. That is a short-term saving but it leads to longer term costs. It is an example of what is happening throughout the economy. We have also had six years of stagnating and falling wages. However, the interactions between the Government’s economic measures that have led to the negatives—I have delineated only some of them—and the positive of employment being up by 2.5 million are unclear to many of us, and I think are unclear to economists.
The Minister referred in the earlier debate to a package of measures, and she quite properly mentioned the interaction of different measures. These things make it difficult when one is considering economic policy. On the disaggregation of various measures, it is difficult to know whether one measure or package of measures or what cocktail of measures is effective or ineffective. The Minister said that the Government review tax breaks and tax reliefs all the time and that all policies are under review. That is good. What we are saying in some of these amendments and new clauses, and have been saying repeatedly in opposition, is: “Make that public”.
I also repeat to the Minister something I said yesterday. There is a question mark as to how much some of these measures and policies are kept under review. The question mark comes from the National Audit Office in a report of about two years ago, which, in round terms, said that there are five different’ types of measures which could broadly be called tax relief, and it delineated them. It then said that it could count about 1,200 such tax reliefs and that it could find evidence that only about 300 of them were being monitored by the Government for efficacy.
The Minister may well believe and be told that these reviews are going on all the time—there are some reviews and she has referred to several of them today. However, I have to tell her from a somewhat, but not very, different angle that that is not what the NAO found two years ago. I urge her to go back to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Treasury and find out what is going on with this.
Sadly, in the Labour leadership campaign we have seen from various commentators the emergence of the post-factual world. I am in favour of evidence-based policy making. That does not mean we reach a cosy consensus, which is sometimes what those who are post-factual think is what we inevitably end up with. I will give the House a simple example. If a suburban road has a 30 mph speed limit and a survey finds that 60% of cars are going above 40 mph, the policy that one could make as a result of that could vary between putting in speed humps, putting in chicanes, using radar guns or even raising the speed limit to 40 mph. Those are the policy implications that we as politicians from our differing perspectives might draw from such a common set of facts. Trying as much as one can—it is not always possible—to have a common set of facts is important for evidence-based policy making, and I do not think that the Government, as legislators, have enough information. Therefore, we cannot be sure that the measures we pass in this House have any likelihood of doing what they are intended to do.
Earlier today I gave the example of tax relief on pension contributions; perhaps the worst example is £30 billion a year spent trying to do something when there is no evidence that it does what we want it to do. It might be that from that fact—I take it as a fact because the House of Commons Library cannot find any real evidence that behaviour is changed by that massive tax relief—one could draw different conclusions. One could say one must try harder to advertise it, and we should be doing it anyway because it is a good thing. At the other end of the spectrum, one could say it should be abolished entirely, and in the middle one could say, “Well, we should tinker round the edges and get tax relief at the higher rate—the 40% rate—down.” But we should try to start with a common basis, even though we will not always be able to do so, and many of the new clauses and amendments are seeking to flush out that information. That is a step towards the situation I wish to see—it is adverted to in amendment 180, which refers to the Office of Tax Simplification—in which we as a society and as a legislature look seriously at tax simplification.
The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) referred to this earlier today. He also referred to it yesterday in the context of corporation tax, and asked whether we ought to consider substituting that tax with a turnover tax, given all the avoidance that goes on. Depending on how it were done, that could be simpler. I agree with him that we ought to have that debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) also made an excellent speech earlier today on evidence-based policy and getting the relevant information.
This ties in to the question of simplification because we need the evidence to achieve that. For example, many of the small business tax reliefs generally sound very good, and they might indeed be good; I do not know, because we do not have the evidence. I have been in small and medium-sized businesses, and in my experience those who make the decisions are often unaware of that part of the tax regime until they come to speak to their accountant at the end of the year. So the tax relief has not in fact altered the behaviour of that business during that first year, although it might do so in years two and three. My experience of being in and interacting with small businesses, although not huge, tells me that they are often too busy trying to run their business to say, “There is a tax relief for this and a way of doing that, and we were going to do this in sales but now we are going to do that instead.” They are too busy pursuing the goals that they have set themselves to be bothered about that, so let us have some simplification.
Many Members, although not all, talk about tax simplification. When the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), was in opposition and my party was in government, I remember hearing him speak in Finance Bill Committees—six of which I served on—and repeatedly referring to the tax code. He was the first to use that Americanisation, as I remember. This was seven or eight years ago, and he said that according to Tolley’s tax guide, as it then was, the tax code ran to about 1,000 pages. At the latest count, it is about 1,500 pages. We have had no simplification; we have gone the other way.
One of the reasons for that is that Governments have understandably not had the guts to say, “If you have simplification, it will lead on occasion to things being rough and ready and you will lose the nuances.” As a lawyer, I can say that on occasions that is right. We see this most graphically in the area in which I practise, that of employment tribunals. When they were introduced as industrial tribunals decades ago, they were supposed to be the people’s access to justice. They were supposed to be simple, rough and ready, but what did we get? We got layers of complexity and precedents.
Additionally, we now see the awful situation of people being unable to afford to go to a tribunal since the Government brought in fees. The court fees introduced by the last Government for a full employment tribunal hearing can amount to £2,000. Also, the complexity now means that people need legal representation, but they cannot get legal aid and, generally—certainly in England and Wales; I do not know about Scotland—they cannot get a so-called no win, no fee agreement. So access to justice is reduced because of the complexity. It is very difficult for a lay person in England and Wales to access an employment tribunal without access to specialist legal advice, which generally costs money because of the legal aid regime.
One solution would be to make legal aid available for employment tribunals. Another would be to make the tribunals less complex, but that would lead to rough and ready justice. The same would apply to the tax measures in this country. I urge the Government to consider monitoring and getting evidence on the 1,200 or so tax reliefs and on the distributional analysis to which some of the new clauses refer. I also urge them to take the bull by the horns and have the guts—I salute them for having had the guts to take measures on tax avoidance—to go for a simplification that would help business, even if it occasionally resulted in a somewhat rough and ready system.
In the absence of the Government showing any willingness to take the bull by the horns on tax simplification, how can we get them to part with the information that they say they have on the continual review on tax reliefs? I have not been an MP for very long, but it strikes me that there is a failure in the system if we are not seeing the transparency that we need. If the Government are actually doing these reviews but not providing their working to the Committees or to Opposition MPs, that strikes me as a failure in the system. How can we get them to part with that information?
I quite agree with the hon. Lady. Sadly, I am unlikely ever to be a Minister, but I am hoping that the Minister will stand up this afternoon and say, “The hon. Member for Aberdeen North has made a jolly good point.” She has said that the Government keep all policies under review all the time, so let us have the transparency. I salute what the Government did for transparency yesterday in accepting amendment 145, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). I urge them to go that bit further today by publishing the evidence that they have and by marshalling more evidence and disclosing it. They must have the courage to seriously go for simplification, which would be better for business and employment in this country, even though there would be a cost to be borne by society in the form of less nuanced decision making and systems becoming more monochromatic and rough and ready. Some of that would of course rebound on Members of the House, because we would get constituents writing to us saying, “I have a particularly nuanced situation here, and you guys have made all these laws that are a bit monochromatic and do not help me.” We have to have the guts to say that that is a price worth paying, and as legislators we should be prepared to do so.
I had hoped to clear up my point in an earlier intervention on the Minister, but I fear that I was not happy with her answer so I shall try again and extend my case a little on the important matter of VAT on energy-saving materials. That is the principal issue at stake in new clause 15. As I was trying to explain to the Minister, many of us feel that it would be quite wrong to increase VAT on energy-saving materials, given that the House decided to choose the lowest rate that we are allowed to impose under European Union law. A case was then lost in the European Court, and the Government have wisely been undertaking a very long consultation into how they might implement this ill-conceived and unwanted judgment. The longer they consider it, the better, and the sooner we get out of the European Union, the sooner we can bring the whole charade to a happy end.
To many of us, this illustrates exactly what was wrong with our membership of the European Union, and this is something that we can offer to our constituents as we come out. They voted to leave and to take back control of their laws. That includes their laws over taxes. During the campaign, we on the leave side made a great deal of how we wanted to scrap VAT on energy-saving materials. Like many people in this House, we believe that we could do much more to save and conserve energy and to raise fuel efficiency, and if we did not tax those materials, perhaps they would be a bit cheaper for people. That would send a clear message that this was something that we believed in.
I urge the Minister to go as far as she can in saying that this Government have absolutely no wish to put up VAT on energy-saving materials, and that they would not do so if they were completely free to make their own tax decisions. I would love her to go a bit further—this might be asking quite a lot—and say that once we are free of the European Union requirements, we will be scrapping VAT on energy-saving materials altogether. It is not a huge money-spinner for the Government, and its abolition would send a very good message. It would particularly help people struggling in fuel poverty, who find energy-saving materials expensive. The extra VAT on them is far from helpful.
The Minister suggested to me that the Brexit Secretary was dealing with this matter, but I can assure her that he is not. He made a clear statement on these matters in the House yesterday and wisely told us—I repeat this for the benefit of those who did not hear him—that it is his role to advise and work with the Prime Minister to get our powers back. His job is to ensure that this House and all of us can once again settle the United Kingdom’s taxes without having to accept the European Union’s judgments and overrides. However, it will be for Treasury Ministers and the wider Cabinet to recommend how we use those wider and new powers and to bring to the House their proposals once they are free to do so.
I hope that we trigger article 50 as soon as possible. This is another reason why we should not rush to impose higher, crippling taxes on energy saving, because it is something we want to encourage. It is another incentive for us to get on with actually leaving the Union. A bigger cash incentive that is relevant to Budget matters in this Finance Bill is that we would soon be able to get back the £10 billion a year. Remember that every month we delay getting out of the European Union we have to raise another £850 million through a Finance Bill such as this to send away and not get back. I urge the Minister to take the matter seriously and to say that this Government have absolutely no intention of increasing VAT on energy-saving materials unless they are legally forced to do so. Will she confirm my view that the sooner we are out, the sooner we can have a rational policy on this most important matter?
I rise to address amendments 180 to 182 and new clause 19, tabled in my name and those of my hon. and right hon. Friends. As a relatively new Member, I want to place on the record my enormous thanks to the staff of the Public Bill Office, who over the course of the summer assisted in the production of not only these amendments, but more than 30 amendments to the Higher Education and Research Bill. I have been busy, but I have been keeping them busy. As a new Member, I have perhaps been slightly more demanding, so I am grateful for their time and support.
As the Minister acknowledged in her opening remarks, amendments 180 to 182 arose from concerns reflected right across the Treasury Committee about the nature of appointments to the most senior offices and the dismissal of post holders. The Office of Tax Simplification has an important public duty. Many of us want the tax code to be simplified, but we know that constraints are inevitable because the tax system is as complicated as life and will therefore always have a degree of complexity. However, we also know—particularly those of us with a large number of small and medium-sized businesses in our constituencies—that the more complicated the tax code, the more complicated it is for businesses to understand what it is they should and should not be paying. Companies with the means to get a great deal of expensive advice on how to make enormous savings are at a great advantage.
During the course of yesterday’s Finance Bill debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) spoke about the widespread practice of aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations. If the tax code were simpler and clearer, that sort of aggressive avoidance would be harder. That is why there is such parliamentary interest in the work of the OTS and a determination to ensure that Government appointments to the most senior posts have an appropriate degree of parliamentary oversight—primarily, but not exclusively, through the Treasury Committee.
I welcome the Minister’s constructive approach and the agreement she made with the Chair of the Treasury Committee, the right hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), who does a sterling job of batting for all members of the Committee and on behalf of both sides of the House. This is a good example of how the Government and the Select Committee system can work together effectively to reach the right outcome. I do not intend to press amendments 180 to 182 to a vote this afternoon, because we have received sufficient assurances from the Minister and I look forward to that process continuing under successive Governments.
Turning to new clause 19, even newer Members of the House are familiar with the regular display and theatre of the Budget. In this modern age, there is an inevitable degree of briefing, counter-briefing and misleading in the run-up to the event in order to misdirect the Opposition and to enable the Government to be fleet of foot on the day and to save the best headlines for the Budget. On the day itself, we have the routine announcements about the business that needs to be conducted in any Budget and then, of course, we get the inevitable rabbit out of the hat. Once the smoke has cleared and the mirrors have been packed away, the real analysis begins of the consequences of each Budget item for the people whom we are sent here to represent. Even members of Select Committees or Bill Committees, who follow the scrutiny of Bills closely, know that trying to penetrate the real impact of a Finance Bill or any fiscal event is a significant challenge.
I must say that that challenge has been made more difficult by the decision of the previous Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), to move away from his commendable practice of publishing alongside the Budget the distributional analysis of the impact of tax, welfare and public spending changes. The first question that all hon. Members face when presented with a Budget is about the impact on our constituents. Those of us who are committed to social justice are more interested in the impact on the poorer household than the wealthier household. In fact, the right hon. Member for Tatton described the analysis as the
“most comprehensive and robust assessment available”.
That is why it was so disappointing that he decided to abandon that practice following the general election. The move was condemned at the time by a wide range of anti-poverty charities as a serious mistake. We could spend a lot of time debating why the previous Chancellor chose to abandon that practice at that particular moment, and we could have our usual exchanges about the priorities of Conservative Governments and Labour Governments, but with the appointment of a new Prime Minister and a new Chancellor I hope that we can instead debate the merits of the principle which we believe any Government, whatever their priorities and political shade, should follow.
The Chair of the Treasury Committee wrote to the Chancellor to express concern that at last year’s summer Budget the Treasury
“replaced its previously excellent budget distributional analysis series with a manifestly deficient substitute.”
Since her elevation, the Prime Minister has made great fanfare of the commitment she made outside No. 10 Downing Street to lead a Government who work
“not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.”
I would dearly love to have a debate with the Government about the means by which we achieve social justice and about whether it is a good thing in and of itself, but I certainly agree with the Chairman of the Treasury Committee that a
“high level of transparency about the effects of tax and welfare policy on households across the income distribution would seem to be a logical, perhaps essential starting point.”
That is what motivated the tabling of new clause 19.
It is important that all Governments are clear and transparent about a Budget’s effects to enable proper parliamentary and public scrutiny of decisions—as happens in the Chamber, in Select Committees and in conversations around kitchen tables up and down the country. Knowing that the analysis is being produced and seeing it form as the Budget is prepared helps to concentrate the minds of Ministers and civil servants. It asks the question and gives the Chancellor, before he or she stands at the Dispatch Box to announce their Budget, an opportunity to reflect on the Budget in its entirety.
Successive Governments and Chancellors have once or twice fallen foul of public opinion by realising that the Budget as a whole is not necessarily as great as they thought it was when each part was being considered. Having the analysis in place as the Budget is prepared will not only aid public and parliamentary scrutiny, but enable Ministers to make the right judgment about how Budgets should be balanced. The Opposition believe, particularly when difficult judgments are to be made about tax and welfare changes and public spending, that the books should never be balanced on the backs of the poorest. I hope that we can find agreement in that area with the new Chancellor and Prime Minister, particularly given her stated aims, but whoever occupies the highest offices of this land, we can surely agree that parliamentary scrutiny is vital.
We should also agree that, as the Treasury has the evidence to hand and we are not asking it to do additional work—the analysis already exists—simply requesting that it be put in the public domain is not too much to ask. I welcome the fact that this afternoon the Minister has left the door open and says that this area will be considered by Ministers. On that basis, I accept that Ministers, the Chancellor and the Treasury will consider it. I assure the Minister and the Chancellor that we will return to this issue, through the Select Committee and at future fiscal events, if a change is not made. On the basis that the Government have an open mind and open ears on this issue, I am prepared not to press new clause 19 to a vote.
It is a pleasure to take part in this stage of our consideration of the Finance Bill. I was interested to hear the carefully constructed arguments of the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting). Let me pick up on the point he made about wanting to see social justice from this and future Budgets, and to see it at the heart of the Government’s agenda, as was made clear on the steps of No. 10 by the new Prime Minister. He also talked about the impact on the poorest households, which is the focus of new clauses 2 and 3 and the reviews that they propose. As ever, it was also interesting to hear from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris), and to listen to his thesis on post-factual analysis, be it on the Labour leadership contest or on this Bill. He mentioned roads, so perhaps he should come down to Enfield and give us a post-factual analysis of the cycle lanes that are planned in my borough to see whether we should continue with that expensive proposal, given the need for best value.
Let me return to the matters at hand. First, I wish to speak to new clause 2, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). Sadly, the latter cannot be here as she is leading her Health Committee on a visit, although she would want to be here to support this new clause. I hope and expect that across the House there is support for the principles of wanting to carry out a proper review of the impact of the duty regime, particularly in relation to high-strength cider, although I very much welcome the Minister’s comments. She will know all too clearly from her previous role in public health of the impact of alcohol and high-strength alcohol in particular, including cider, on the poorest and those most in need of our attention. I welcome the hint that a wider, more coherent view of the relationship between alcohol duties and harm could be taken, which was mooted by the previous Prime Minister but seemed to get kicked into the long grass—it has never returned. The Minister will be well aware of the permutations and the different interests across Government in relation to that review and its final outcome. The previous Prime Minister was talking about minimum alcohol pricing in terms of when not if, but this has now gone back to an if. I look forward in future Budgets and future consideration to a wider review and factual analysis of the relationships to harm and the impact on behaviour, particularly among the poorest.
New clause 2 hones in on an area that is about not just health harms, although that is the core of the argument, but an anomaly in our treatment of cider and of beer.
I was a “remainer”, so at the risk of sounding like the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that this is one area where, as a small silver lining, leaving the European Union may assist, because the rates of excise duties, the definitions and so on are related to our membership of the EU? For example, I am thinking of the way in which wine is treated, because of the Italian, Spanish and French wine industries. If and when we leave the EU, we will have more flexibility in this regard.
I welcome reluctant converts to the cause of Brexit, whenever they come. That is a silver lining among many. I see this very much as sunshine, rather than silver linings. At the heart of it all, this is about our taking back control over a duty that has an impact on the most vulnerable, and we have already had arguments about VAT. I look forward to hearing the Scottish Members’ support for the same silver lining, because they have been battling to ensure that their proposal for minimum unit pricing is not subject to court and European Court interference. They, too, would perhaps welcome that silver lining; I look forward to their joining the hon. Gentleman in what he has just said.
As much as anything else, new clause 2 is about dealing with an anomaly to do with high-strength ciders. In the recess, hon. Members may have enjoyed ciders of all varieties. They may have popped their corks and had some sparkling cider, which is a substitute, perhaps a poor one, for champagne. They need have no fear about this, because the essence of my proposed review is very much about the nasty stuff. I doubt many hon. Members will have partaken in it, although they may have done. I am talking about people going down to their local office licence to get a large bottle or can of white cider, which is not particularly sparkling or pleasant. However, it attracts under-age drinkers and, in particular, dependent drinkers—
It has never seen an apple. The Minister intimated that the same is true of pears. We need to look at the fact that white cider attracts the lowest duty per unit of alcohol of any product while representing the cheapest way to consume alcohol and get drunk, and to enable addicts to continue their dependency. Three-litre bottles of high-strength ciders are available for just £3.50; people can get completely wasted on £3.50, but they would struggle to buy a bottle of some mainstream ciders for that. As a result, these products are causing disproportionate levels of harm, which is closely associated with dependent, street and under-age drinking. The Government are rightly emphasising and prioritising tackling street homelessness and putting funds into preventing homelessness. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) has introduced the very helpful Homelessness Reduction Bill. We hope that, with cross-party support, he will be navigating its safe passage through this House on 28 October and all hon. Friends will attend to that.
Let me make a wider point about future Budgets, as connected to that is the need to examine the impact of duty and the evidence that price has a particular impact on behaviour.
My hon. Friend pre-empts the point I wished to make, and is making a typically eloquent speech. For too long, under all Governments and under generally liberal regimes, whether we are talking about salt, sugar, alcohol or fixed-odds betting terminals, there has not been a holistic approach from the Treasury that looks at the indicative costs to society. I am talking in terms of health services, social services and so on. I do not think any Government have got that right over the years: there is a cost if we do not get the fiscal policy right in trying to change behaviour across all these areas.
That is a welcome intervention. I welcome the Minister to her place, as she has wide experience in this area. I understand that she was the longest-serving Conservative public health Minister. She can bring that experience to bear, not least because she has added responsibilities, given the make-up of the limited number of Ministers on the Treasury Bench, to cover those aspects of what some might call sin taxes and to create a better overall review. That can be linked up with what we look forward to receiving from the Government: the long-awaited life chances strategy. Be it on the social justice strategy, social reform strategy or life chances strategy, we must ensure that we focus on the poorest and most disadvantaged, who are particularly badly affected by high-strength ciders and other issues that have been mentioned.
High-strength ciders are usually about 7.5% alcohol by volume, they are sold in three-litre bottles and they contain 22.5 units of alcohol. That is over 50% more than the Government’s weekly limit guideline, just in a single container. The leading brands are Diamond White and White Ace. The price means that heavy drinkers of white cider can spend only a third as much on alcohol as low-risk drinkers would spend. These low-strength ciders and high-strength ciders range between 1.2% and 7.5% ABV, but we need to focus on the white ciders, because at the moment the tax is based on volume rather than strength. That has an impact on behaviours. Obviously, it has an impact on the behaviour of manufacturers. When they look at incentives and what they produce, they may say, “Let’s just go for volume. We won’t then be hit on strength.” There is not a similarity with the beer regime, which has that grading, and that has an impact, not least on what products come out. Unsurprisingly, on the high street there is much more of a market for lower-strength beer and different qualities of lower-strength beer. Meanwhile, there is a wide range of mainstream ciders, but no impact in duty terms on high-strength ciders.
In considering the impact of high-strength ciders, we should perhaps discuss Glasgow and Edinburgh where, I understand, 25% of alcohol treatment services patients drink white cider. Of those, 45% drink white cider exclusively, so this is a huge issue whether in Glasgow or Edinburgh, where there is a significant problem with high-dependency drinkers, or in London or elsewhere.
I am sure hon. Members will know of constituents who are particularly dependent on this harmful drink, which is the drink of choice for many a harmful drinker. Indeed, the chief executive of Thames Reach, Jeremy Swain, has said that 78% of deaths among his clients can be traced back to high-strength drinks such as white cider. That is a shocking statistic that needs to be out there. I implore the Minister, perhaps when she considers future Budgets, to look at what is happening, and why. Efforts have been made in relation to manufacturers and others—she will be aware of this from her previous role—to sort things out and become responsible, and it has to be said that retailers have done that: Heineken and Bulmers have withdrawn their white cider brands as they believe them to be socially irresponsible. That is to be welcomed and we should praise those companies.
Furthermore, retailers such as Costcutter, Morrisons, Nisa and Spar have acknowledged the problems associated with those products and reduced their stocking and promotion of white cider, but if hon. Members come to Green Lanes in my constituency, although they will not get near any of those established off-licences, they will see that high-strength ciders are readily available. They are, sadly, targeted at the heavy drinkers, who are more likely to have those white ciders. Also—this is based on evidence that needs wider debate and review—they are more responsive to the cheapest price for alcohol.
Those supporting such a review and such a measure are indeed those responsible retailers and manufacturers, as well as the health sector—those who see the impacts of liver disease and the changes brought about by lack of accessibility to and an increased price for such products. In addition, alcohol treatment charities, various parts of the drinks industry and dependent drinkers themselves have also made the point that they recognise the impact of having an increased price.
It is indeed time for the Government to provide additional reassurance that there will be a honed focus on the issue in future Budgets, as well as a wider review of the impact of high-strength alcohol, particularly with respect to cider duty and targeting on white cider sales. As the Minister said, we must always be proportionate in the way we handle duties and ensure that people are not unduly impacted when they either buy or go out for a cider, but these measures would not impact on most mainstream ciders of between 4% and 5% ABV.
On the issue of simplification, which was alluded to earlier, these measures would bring such products into line with the treatment of beer. Since 2011, there have been three tiers of beer duty, with low rates on low-strength beers and high rates on high-strength beers, so why do not the Government, to achieve simplicity, clarity and coherence, make similar provision in relation to ciders, particularly because of the impact of high-strength ciders on the poorest?
The Government have rightly put social justice at the heart of all they do, and that must include this area, where the spotlight of social justice must also shine in preventing harmful drinking. I look forward to the Minister perhaps adding a few words of support for a targeted increase in the price of high-strength cider, or at least agreeing to look at the issue again seriously in time for the next Budget so as to help the vulnerable and end the anomaly to which I have referred. That would recognise these proposals as part of a wider review of the important issue of alcohol duties and their relationship to harm.
Another issue has been of interest during previous debates on Finance Bills, and I wish to bring a strong focus to bear on it by speaking to new clause 3, which stands in my name and the names of 15 of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Indeed, others have indicated to me their support for a review of the marriage and civil partnerships transferable tax allowance. I want to comment particularly on low-income households, especially couples with young children. It would be very progressive if the Government were to focus on achieving more take-up—I welcome the Minister’s comments on that—and arriving at a more significant amount, which would disproportionately impact on lower-income households.
I welcome the introduction of the transferable allowance for married people and civil partners last April, so, unlike in previous debates, I will not, along with my hon. Friends, be imploring the Government to establish such an allowance in the tax system. We have that. That battle has been won and that promise has been kept. There is that recognition of marriage in the tax system, and it is evidence-based: the institution of marriage is valuable as it helps individuals to build social resilience, improves mental wellbeing and aids healthy relationships, particularly with children. I shall not dwell on that past battle because, as the Minister said at the Dispatch Box, she also, on behalf of the Government, is wholly committed to that transferable allowance. It is here to stay under this Government, which is wholly welcome and I very much appreciate it. If any other hands got on the tiller, I am sure that it could be under threat.
However, we must not sit back and be content. The bauble is there and we have recognised marriage, but we need to look, as we do across Government, at how that measure will impact on poorer households. Indeed, we need to consider incentives, including financial incentives, and disincentives around different couple relationships and penalties that still exist. I believe that we must prevent marriage, with its particular social benefits, which have been evidenced, from becoming the preserve of the more wealthy.
I am sure that Members from across the House will join me in not being content with the fractured society that is based around relationships breaking down. We must do all we can to support couples to stay together, particularly those with children, and consider the impact on children when couples do not stay together. Evidence states very clearly that the children of married couples, who have grown up with them, are better served by the fact that the couple stay together.
I recognise that there are different incentives and this is not all about the tax allowance. A range of support can be given to keep couples together, although that is perhaps the subject of another debate for another time. However, we can play our part through fiscal incentives. I recall a recent speech from the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, who spoke about an issue that we often discuss. We pray in aid the fact that we are a party of one nation and that we want to build a country of one nation. Interestingly, Lord Sacks referred to the fact that there is a growing phenomenon of two nations, which he saw in terms of a failure to support marriage creating two nations with two very different sets of life chances. As the Government build on their strategy, we should not ignore this issue, and immediately the life chances strategy is published I shall be doing research on the word “marriage” and how much we are supporting marriage.
It is important to heed the words of Lord Sacks. He said:
“In Britain today more than a million children will grow up with no contact whatsoever with their fathers. This is creating a divide within societies the like of which has not been seen since Disraeli spoke of ‘two nations’ a century and a half ago. Those who are privileged to grow up in stable loving association with the two people who brought them into being will, on average, be healthier physically and emotionally. They will do better at school and at work. They will have more successful relationships, be happier and live longer.”
We should not allow that to be the preserve of one part of the nation. We can play our part fiscally to ensure that we are not divided and that many gain the opportunities derived from couples being together.
I want to focus on how we can get more out of the money that the Government have earmarked for the allowance. There was a low take-up, as the Minister mentioned in her opening remarks, but following a good marketing campaign take-up has increased and the millionth application for the allowance will shortly be made. I am sure that basic rate taxpayers watching this debate will want to apply for it if they have not already done so. I am pleased about that, but there has been a huge underspend in the Government’s original budget for the transferable allowance, which essentially allocated £495 million to support marriage in the tax system. This is a partial allowance from earlier iterations and there is less transferability, but it is still a significant sum.
There is, however, a gap. The funding that was initially allocated was not taken up. Even if, as the Minister announced today, the millionth couple are about to take up that allowance, that would account for about £210 million, if those couples all keep taking that payment. That is considerably less than half the amount originally allocated for the policy. Given that we are in challenging financial times, how can we get more out of this principled £500 million commitment from the Government? How can we ensure take-up by those who most need it? Can the Government increase the current level of just over £4 a week, and what should the level be?
Like the hon. Member for Ilford North, I am thinking of the Prime Minister’s words on the steps of No.10, when she said:
“When it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you.”
We should focus on ordinary working-class families, not only on those who are not taking up the allowance, and on greater incentives for those who are. We need to reduce the financial inaccessibility of marriage for many. I encourage hon. Members to look at new clause 3. It is mindful of current financial constraints and aims to make better use of the money allocated, targeting it at married couples and civil partners who need that additional support.
A campaign that has been run for many years by CARE and the Centre for Social Justice focuses on married families with children under five. It is those families in particular that the allowance would help. Reports such as “The 1001 Critical Days” have focused on the crucial early days and years. The allowance would promote stability and support child development when it is most needed.
The allowance is a progressive form of tax. Immediately after the Budget, people often ask what the Institute for Fiscal Studies thinks of it. What does the IFS think of the transferable allowance and my new clause? Back in 2010, the IFS made the point that 75% of the benefit from increasing the personal allowance went to the top half of the income distribution band. Raising the personal allowance to £12,500 will place upward pressure on the 75% figure, resulting in an even greater proportion going to the top half of the income distribution band.
I welcome the personal allowance and the commitment to it. That is a wholly good measure, but other forms of allowance such as the transferable allowance should not be seen as a mere bauble. It should be seen in its proper context as progressive and as helping low-income households. The IFS has said that in contrast to the personal allowance, 70% of the benefit of the transferable allowance goes to those in the lower half of the income distribution bands. That is a socially just approach to dealing with allowances. The Government are encouraged to look at that carefully.
I asked the IFS whether it still agreed with the 2010 interpretation of the figures in its analysis. The analysis shows that the beauty of the transferable allowance is that whatever its transferability—whether the small transferability at present, the greater transferability that I encourage the Government to pursue, or indeed 100% transferability—it would help stay-at-home families who are impacted by the present tax burden, particularly the high marginal tax rate. The IFS says that it will continue to result in approximately 70% of the money secured for the transferable allowance going to those in the lower half of the income distribution band. That has to be borne in mind.
I encourage the Government not to look at the marriage tax allowance in isolation as simply a commitment that we have delivered. It needs to be seen in a wider context as part of an international tax comparison. CARE showed that the UK tax burden placed on a one-earner married couple with two children on an average wage is 25% greater than the average across the OECD. By looking at that broader context we can see that we need to support the transferable allowance. The previous Prime Minister thought it was a staging post and that we should increase it. I think we should increase it in terms of money and the percentage of transferability. If we cannot go that far immediately, let us focus on those who would particularly benefit and feel the impact—couples with young children.
On that point, and particularly on the point about whether parents choose to stay at home or to work, despite the measure that has been put in, I support anything that allows parents to have a choice, or more of a choice, over whether they stay at home to look after their children or put them in childcare. However, we still have a massive problem with families not being able to make those choices, because childcare is not affordable for them, particularly for those caring for under-fives. Parents are still forced into being stay-at-home parents or taking low-wage jobs at strange hours because of the lack of affordable childcare. Does the hon. Gentleman support measures to change the childcare regime as well as the tax regime relating to this issue?
The hon. Lady tempts me into a wider debate. If the Minister were to respond on this, she would certainly point to the measures on childcare. When one looks at supporting couples with young children, there are other things the Government have been very much involved in to improve the offer. There is work to do on access and affordability, not least, in my constituency, in relation to poor households accessing childcare.
I appreciate the fact that the hon. Lady talked about choice. There is also an issue about choice in that the Government are rightly encouraging as many people as possible to work and to exercise that choice, but it is sometimes an invidious choice for those who would want to stay at home, and the fiscal incentive to do that is not currently there.
There is a huge impact generally across the tax system on single-earner couples, which is not getting sufficient attention, and this proposal for the transferable allowance addresses that. There are lots of other measures across the tax and benefits system that seek to focus support on children, but we must particularly support the benefits of this allowance, which is around couples, marriage and the commitment to marriage and civil partnership.
In conclusion, following the cause of new clause 3 can be a win-win situation for the Government. It not only, obviously, recognises what we do already on marriage in the tax system, but it allows us to get the maximum effect from the Government’s original commitment, which I believe was welcome, but which was somewhat partial in terms of its original intentions. Recognising the financial challenges, I think new clause 3 would ensure that we can seek to remove some of the disincentives to marriage for those who wish to marry; it would help us to support social resilience and help with transferability; and it is also fiscally conservative. In short, new clause 3 is about getting more bang for our buck in supporting marriage and social justice.
There are several new clauses on which I intend to speak—most of them briefly—and the first is new clause 18.
New clause 18 calls for a review of the impact of section 24 of the Finance Act 2015. I and my SNP colleagues have concerns that the changes made in section 24 may have adverse consequences on the availability of affordable housing in Scotland and beyond. That legislation seems to be yet another London-centric policy that fails to take account of the diversity of the housing market throughout the UK.
Unlike other parts of the UK, where large rental agencies dominate, Scotland has a disproportionate number of landlords who own a small number of properties. That is hugely beneficial to tenants—particularly those on low incomes—as those small-scale landlords are often more willing to rent properties at an affordable price and to those relying on social security as a safety net. Owing to the changes introduced in section 24, we are concerned that those small-scale landlords may be forced drastically to increase rental costs, causing houses to be less affordable, or to sell their properties, potentially resulting in their being purchased by less sympathetic landlords or agencies. Given the UK-wide housing crisis that we are suffering and the rising cost of rented accommodation, it is incredibly important to ensure that landlords who rent at affordable prices and to those who depend on social security as a safety net are not pushed out of the market. New clause 18 therefore calls for a review of the impact of these changes on the availability of affordable housing so that those on lower incomes are not adversely affected.
New clause 6 calls for a review of the VAT treatment of the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish fire and rescue service. I thank the Minister for her comments and consideration in her introductory remarks. Many in this Chamber may be familiar with the matter of VAT in relation to the Scottish police and fire rescue services, which my colleagues have raised in this House on a number of occasions. This remains an incredibly important matter that this Government have failed properly to address. Since the incorporation of police and fire authorities in 2013, the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish fire and rescue services have been charged VAT by the UK Treasury. This UK Government have refused to grant an exemption to these vital services in Scotland, despite the fact that since the time of incorporation the HMRC has handed out exemptions to the new transport agency Highways England, and Olympic legacy organisation the London Legacy Development Corporation.
This Tory-backed charge on essential Scottish public services is costing emergency services tens of millions every year that could and should be spent on frontline services. Only in June, it was reported that Scotland’s police force has paid £76.5 million in VAT since it was formed three years ago and remains unable to claim this money. It is worth noting that only the Scottish police and fire services have been expected to pay VAT to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and not English, Welsh or Northern Irish services. This is a disgrace. It seems absurd and unfair for this Tory UK Government to continually expect the Scottish Government to rectify the matter and cover the difference, especially given the consistent cuts to the pocket money they grant Scotland to run devolved matters. New clause 6 therefore seeks a review of the impacts of the VAT treatment on the Scottish police and Scottish fire and rescue services, including analysis of the impact of the financial position of these services arising from their VAT treatment.
I turn briefly to new clause 15, which seeks to prevent VAT from being increased on the installation of energy-saving materials. I agree with the intent of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) to prevent these VAT increases, if not his methods. This Tory Government have consistently instituted regressive policies in relation to clean energy and energy-efficiency measures, from cuts to the solar subsidies—
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this would be a relatively cheap way of incentivising householders and energy-saving products in addressing some of the damage that the Government and the previous coalition Government did by, in effect, dismantling the green energy policy they claimed to support at the outset?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and agree wholeheartedly with his comments.
From cuts to solar subsidies, to the scrapping of onshore wind, to the scrapping of the green deal for energy for energy-efficient homes that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, to the selling of the UK Green Investment Bank—there are numerous other examples—this austerity-obsessed Government are taking the UK backwards with regard to renewable energy. I fear that with Brexit looming on the horizon this trajectory is set to continue. Given this environment of cuts, it seems logical for the installation of energy-saving materials to be exempt from a hike in VAT, as a bare minimum.
I will now speak to new clause 8 on dividend income. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) tabled an amendment regarding the proposed changes to the treatment of dividend income by HMRC. My colleagues and I feel that this issue has not yet been sufficiently addressed by the Government. We did not press the new clause to a vote at that time so that we could address the matter at a later date, and we do so now. I do not wish to rehash previous points made, but this is a matter of great importance and, as such, we have tabled the new clause. Numerous stakeholder groups raised concerns with the Committee regarding the regressive impact of the changes to dividend income proposed in this Bill, particularly the effect on small and microbusinesses, which employ between one and nine people. Those raising concerns have highlighted that the changes will have a disproportionate effect on microbusinesses run by owner-operators on modest incomes, given that there are already numerous disincentives to running microbusinesses—as opposed to traditional salaried employment—including, but not limited to, a lower level of job security and a lack of employer pension contributions.
The Finance Bill was devised prior to the vote to leave the European Union. The measure under discussion will have a disproportionate effect on microbusinesses, so does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should accept our new clause and review the measure in the light of Brexit?
I must admit that I have sympathy with all who have reservations about any position taken in this Bill, given that, as my hon. Friend has said, it seeks to implement measures devised prior to the EU vote and therefore fails to provide for an economy that faces the harsh reality of Brexit. I am sure that we all look forward to the autumn or winter statement—whenever it will be—and the redress it will contain, imaginary or otherwise. We will then see, I presume, whether the new Chancellor is as good with imaginary numbers as the previous one was not.
The Federation of Small Businesses has raised serious concerns. It has highlighted that the changes are particularly acute for members of organisations who are on modest incomes. It has further submitted extensive evidence regarding member feedback on the proposed changes. A number of responses have highlighted concerns from the owners of small and microbusinesses that the changes may mean that they will not be able to continue to employ their small workforces.
In addition, evidence was submitted to the Committee by Jason Kitcat of Crunch Accounting, who has produced excellent work on the matter. I acknowledge that Mr Kitcat has been referenced several times in discussions about the proposed changes, but his analysis is significant and, as such, ought to be raised again. Crunch Accounting has highlighted how the changes as proposed hit lower-earning microbusinesses the hardest. The Government have stated that the changes in dividend income will be offset by planned future changes both to the way in which Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs treats corporations and to personal allowances. However, Crunch has highlighted how those anticipated changes will not fully offset the impact of changes to HMRC’s treatment of dividend income for microbusinesses, as proposed by the Bill. In addition, Crunch has highlighted how measures cited by Ministers, such as changes to employment allowances and the annual investment allowance, are rarely available to microbusinesses, as they have little capital investment requirements.
I stress that the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises to the Scottish and UK economy cannot be overstated. There are few things on which I agree with the Prime Minister, but I do agree with her statement last month that
“small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of our country.”
I further welcome her indication in the same speech that she intends to listen to smaller firms. However, I am concerned that, despite that profession from the Prime Minister, the regressive changes to dividend income will not only disincentivise new SMEs from forming, but have the potential to cause existing microbusinesses to fail.
It is essential to note the number of SMEs that are categorised as microbusinesses. The UK is home to 5.2 million microbusinesses, which employ 8.4 million people. In Scotland, microbusinesses play an essential role in the economy. According to recent Scottish Government statistics, 99% of businesses in Scotland are categorised as SMEs, the vast majority of which are microbusinesses. Overall, microbusinesses comprise 81.5% of the businesses in Scotland. The figures are similar for the UK as a whole. According to House of Commons Library research in late 2015, 99% of businesses UK-wide are categorised as SMEs, 95% of which are microbusinesses.
Microbusinesses are essential and central to the functioning of both local and national economies. Given that microbusinesses make up the vast majority of businesses in Scotland and UK-wide, I find it absolutely staggering that HMRC does not make an assessment of microbusinesses as a separate group. Given the prevalence of microbusinesses throughout the economy, it does not seem on this matter as though the Government have listened to the concerns of smaller firms, despite last month’s proclamations from the Prime Minister.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) introduced the original SNP amendment regarding the proposed changes to the way in which HMRC treats dividend income, the response he received to his concerns about microbusinesses was that
“the Government have considered the general economic impact of the changes…the measure is not expected to have any significant macroeconomic impacts.”––[Official Report, Finance Bill Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2016; c. 18.]
This statement taken alone is staggering, given that, as I have stated, 94% of businesses in the UK are categorised as microbusinesses. I fail to see how introducing a change that principally impacts microbusinesses would not be expected to have any significant macroeconomic impact.
The Minister stated in her introductory remarks that we do not yet know the impact of such legislation. I would like to highlight oral evidence given to a Committee of the other place on 8 February 2016 by Cerys MacDonald, the deputy director of personal tax at HMRC. When asked by the Chairman about the impact of these changes on microbusinesses, Ms MacDonald stated:
“I can assure the Committee that we recognise that the dividend tax changes will mean that a lot of people in owner-managed businesses are now paying a higher level of tax than previously, despite the benefit that they will see in the reduction of the corporate tax rate.”
Those two statements seem to me to be at variance with each other. Do the Government believe, as indicated by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that the proposed changes to dividend income will not significantly impact on microbusinesses? Or do they believe, as indicated by Ms MacDonald of HMRC, that the changes will impact on owner-managed businesses, despite the planned future change to the corporate rate?
Given the uncertainty surrounding the inconsistent responses from Government, coupled with substantial evidence from the Federation of Small Businesses, Crunch Accounting and others, it seems as though the Government have not fully and comprehensively considered the impact of the proposed changes on small and microbusinesses—the backbone of our economy, as I am sure we all agree.
New clause 8 would require the Government to conduct a review of the impact of the changes on microbusinesses, including the impact on the failure rate of microbusinesses and the options for minimising the impact of the changes on directors who are on low incomes. I therefore advise hon. Members that we will press new clause 8 to a Division.
I rise to support new clauses 2 and 3, the social justice arguments for which, in support of some of the most vulnerable individuals and families in our society, have been so eloquently and comprehensively set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) that, although I had prepared speeches on both new clauses, there is no need for me to take up the House’s time to echo what he has already said. I therefore simply put on record my full support for what he said, and I ask to be identified with his remarks.
I rise to support amendment 141, which is in my name and those of my hon. and right hon. Friends. I am extremely grateful to Mr Speaker for selecting my amendment, and I would also like to place on the record my thanks to the Public Bill Office, whose advice and help on the matter have been greatly appreciated by me and my office.
I hope that the amendment will find agreement on both sides of the House, and I hope that the Government will not oppose it. The amendment would establish a very small tax exemption for residual cash balances that remain in an employee share incentive plan when an employee leaves such a plan. A residual cash balance is a sum of money, insufficient on its own to buy a single share that month, which would usually be carried over to the next month but which has to be refunded if an employee leaves the scheme. I propose that that balance, capped at a maximum of £10, would instead be donated to charity. That would have the added advantage of reducing costly and burdensome processing by company payroll departments.
Share incentive plans are a good and tax-efficient way to save for the future, and many employees take them up. I believe we should encourage employee share ownership. When an employee leaves a share investment plan, there is commonly a cash residual amount remaining in the account; often, it is just a few pence or a few pounds. When the employee chooses to leave the plan—that is mandatory if the participant leaves the company’s employment—the cash residual can no longer be carried forward. Under the current system, any remaining cash held in the plan when the employee leaves the plan is required to be processed, via the employer’s payroll, to apply national insurance contributions and income tax via PAYE and to pay the net balance to the employee. This process typically costs between £2 and £9, but provides little benefit to the individual receiving such a small amount.
Furthermore, the benefit to the Exchequer is far less than the total cost to companies of administering these payments, with companies paying almost twice as much to process the payments as the Treasury actually receives. To put that into numbers for the ease of Members in the Chamber, it is estimated that the administration costs for companies are between £400,000 and £500,000, while the benefit to the Treasury is just £200,000. If amendment 141 was accepted, charities and good causes would benefit by about £360,000, on top of the savings that companies would make.
There is a precedent for such a change. There are already examples of situations in which HMRC has agreed to individual exemptions to share incentive plan providers, which are currently based on specific requests assessed case by case. There is an appetite for this change among share investment plan providers and HMRC. Amendment 141 would be only a very small change to this Bill compared with what it covers, but it is one that could bring benefits both to companies and to charities and good causes, while at the same time supporting share investment plans by removing a costly and bureaucratic part of the system. The amendment would also help to simplify the tax system and encourage more charitable giving, both of which are stated priorities for this Government and would be priorities for any Government.
I was very pleased and heartened yesterday when the Government accepted amendment 145 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). I sincerely hope that the Minister will accept this amendment and that we can achieve the same result today. If she does not say she will accept it, I will seek to divide the House, but I can genuinely see no reason why the Government would not want the amendment to be agreed to.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). I rise to support new clause 3, to which I have added my name. I, too, agree with everything said by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). I cannot promise to be quite as brief as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), because I wish to add one or two remarks of my own.
The fundamental problem is that family breakdown costs a staggering £47 billion per annum, according to the latest figures. Quite apart from the consequential social dislocation and pain that it causes, it is also undermining the British economy. Of huge importance is the fact that most breakdowns do not arise from divorce, but from the ending of relationships in which the couples concerned have not made to each other the public, exclusive and legal commitment that is marriage. Where they do make such a commitment, their relationships —not surprisingly—are far more likely to be stable.
In this context, there remains a massive public policy imperative to ask whether we are doing anything to make marriage less accessible than in other similarly developed countries. We are unusual in this country in having failed until recently to recognise marriage in our income tax system. The solution initially proposed was for a full transferable allowance, but in the event a transferable allowance of only 10% was enacted. A statistic that has already been mentioned but bears repeating is that the tax burden on one-earner married couples with two children on the average wage is 25% greater than the OECD average. The allowance is not making marriage more accessible in a meaningful way. In this context, it is no surprise that the take-up of the allowance has been so low, although the Minister welcomed the fact that the figure is moving in the right direction.
In going forward, two things could be done. First, if it is not possible in the short term to have a full transferable allowance, we should at least ensure that some married families on the basic rate receive a meaningful transferable allowance. Given that the research is so clear that child development is greatly enhanced by the presence of both mother and father in the family home and given the fact that the public policy benefits of marriage are so well developed, a full transferable allowance for married couples with children under five might be a good place to start.
Secondly, perhaps in the slightly longer term we could work towards the full transferable allowance for married couples generally. Of course that would not be cheap, but it would be considerably cheaper than the current cost of £47 billion. It would promote choice by removing obstacles to marriage. As has been pointed out, it is very much about promoting the life chances agenda. I look forward to the Minister saying one or two more words about this matter in her closing remarks.
I have a couple of questions about Government new clause 9, which relates specifically to Northern Ireland and the tax treatment of supplementary welfare payments that might be made there, but before I come on to that I want to acknowledge some of the other amendments before us.
The hon. Members for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) spoke persuasively about amendment 141. The question that arises is: why would the Government and Parliament not do what is proposed in that amendment?
Similarly, on new clause 19, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), it is hugely important that this Parliament is in the business of making sure that there is transparency in our debates. Yesterday, the emphasis was on making sure that there was transparency in the tax affairs of companies. We as a Parliament should insist that we show full transparency in our intent on tax policy and taxation measures.
New clause 19 would take us back to having transparency on the anticipated impact of taxation on families and households of different incomes. There would also be an analysis later in the year of what the impact of particular tax policies and the cumulative impact of various tax policies had been. Surely that is what we should all be in the business of doing when we go through the complicated and confusing exercise of having the various stages of Budget debates here. One thing we all value is knowing what the impact of what we are talking about will be.
I was in this House when a Labour Government adopted a misguided Budget measure in respect of the 10p tax band. A number of Labour Members raised the alarm and said that there would be an adverse impact on people of low income. The Government briefed heavily that that was nonsense and people were marched through the Lobbies. Similarly, we had the recent experience of the proposed changes to working tax credit. People were celebrating the changes and thought they were wonderful, having believed the Chancellor’s spin. Thankfully, not only Opposition Members but Conservative Members raised real and practical concerns about what the impact would be.
Why would it be wrong to follow new clause 19 and ensure that in all our Budget deliberations in future there is an effort to have a properly appraised impact assessment for taxation measures? That would allow us to answer not the question that is usually asked immediately after a Budget, which is what credit particular MPs or Ministers should get for what measures—that is not really what a Budget is about—but that of who gets the benefit in terms of fairness, social equity and the efficiency of economic impact that that induces. For those reasons, I fully support new clause 19.
Similarly, many hon. Members have made the case for new clause 15. Many of them have made the straightforward point that it would be almost perverse for the Government to refuse a new clause that would preclude an increase in VAT on the installation of energy-saving materials. I know the Government will say that it is otiose because they have no intention of increasing it, but over the past few years, we have experienced the Government adopting a series of perverse measures that have confounded the underlying policy commitments in respect of the green economy, renewables and energy efficiency. Given that the Government have introduced so many measures that have had a perverse effect on that sector and an adverse impact on households, it makes sense to have the belt and braces of new clause 15. I cannot see what is wrong with that.
I also note in passing—and at the risk of another voice-activated intervention—that when the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) sought to contradict the Financial Secretary’s earlier comments, he cited what he thought was a point of clarity in the Brexit Secretary’s performance yesterday. He is the first Member to have offered me any point of clarity from that performance, which I thought demonstrated the new Secretary of State’s wish to be the first Minister to fulfil the new Government policy on environmental sensitivity, given that he treated us to more than two hours of cosmetics without a single microbead of substance.
The lead measure in this group, new clause 9, refers specifically to Northern Ireland. It deals with the ability there will be for the Northern Ireland Assembly to make additional supplementary payments as mitigation measures to offset some of the impact of the welfare reform measures now being imposed by direct rule from this House, courtesy of the so-called “Fresh Start” agreement. My party expressed our misgivings about and opposition to that overall arrangement, with regard to direct rule powers and the imposition of the effects of welfare reform legislation on Northern Ireland. However, we have long canvassed for mitigation and supplementary payments, and established that case with the Department for Work and Pensions early in 2012.
The one concern people will have about new clause 9 is with the language used. Although in the new clause the Government clearly provide for the Treasury to ensure that
“no liability to income tax arises on supplementary welfare payments of a specified description”
they also allow the Treasury to make regulations to
“impose a charge to income tax under Part 10 of ITEPA 2003 on payments of a specified description”.
The power is there to make sure that the Treasury does not activate a tax liability on supplementary payments that have been discussed and voted through by the Assembly but there also seems to be a power to subject some of those payments to tax.
I wonder why the Treasury feels the need to have that reserve power to impose a tax liability on such payments. We should remember that those payments will be made out of the Executive’s own resources in the devolved budget, because they come out of the departmental expenditure limit for the Assembly. The payments will not come under annually managed expenditure.
Why is that power there? Many people will be concerned that the Treasury will attempt to insinuate itself into any debate among Executive or Assembly parties about what measures they should adopt in mitigation of welfare reform by saying that it may subject some of those measures to a tax clawback. That is clear from subsection (3) of the new clause, and also from looking at subsection (4), which will permit the Treasury’s regulations to
“make…different provision for different cases…incidental or supplementary provision”
or “consequential provision”. That differential raises the question of why we want to reserve the power to impose tax on measures that the Executive or Assembly seek to bring forward and why the Treasury should be able to do so differently on a case-by-case basis, as that will give rise to arguments about inequity and capricious performance. The suspicion is that the Treasury sought to answer the stand-off on welfare reform in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly would not discharge the karaoke legislation it was being asked to pass in relation to welfare reform. The Treasury intervened by saying, “If you don’t pass it, we will effectively tax your devolved budget to the tune of what we estimate you would be overspending on welfare.” The Treasury insinuated itself into what should have been a debate for the devolved Assembly.
The danger is that now, even in the area of the mitigating powers—the supplementary payments the Assembly will be able to offer, as provided for in the “Fresh Start” agreement—the Treasury could, in the language of the new clause, insinuate itself in the choices and consideration undertaken by the Executive and Assembly. The Treasury’s past form shows that it has not resisted the temptation to insinuate itself. I therefore want assurance from the Financial Secretary that this language will not be there to give the Treasury the right to interfere in the choices that may be made by Ministers and Committees in the Assembly in respect of the supplementary payments they would be allowed to bring forward.
I commend all hon. Members who have made very valuable contributions, in particular the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). He is no longer in his place, but I would like to speak to his presentation on new clause 3. He set out clearly where we stand.
I want to put on record again the consistent support of the Democratic Unionist party for the provision of the transferable allowance for married couples. I remember the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and I taking some verbal attacks in this Chamber—mostly from the Opposition Benches, I have to say—for our stance on this issue, but we persevered and the Government persevered. I thank the Government for bringing in the provision in their previous term. I had hoped there would have been some indication that the Government could support new clause 3. I understand, after talking to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, that he will not press it to a Division. If that is the case, we have to abide by that.
The sadness for me is that the Government have, until today, chosen to invest the lion’s share of their resources in their other income tax policy of raising the personal allowance. It is undoubtedly true that that policy helps poorer families, but it is very badly targeted. If I may say so in a respectful way, it seems to be targeted at those who can well afford it, as against those who cannot. I have to put on record that I have some concerns about that. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has demonstrated that 75% of the benefit—and now, as the allowance is being raised from £10,000 to £12,500, even more than 75% of the benefit—goes to those in the top half of the income distribution. That is what the available statistics and charts indicate and I have to say they are very stark. They indicate an imbalance in the system that, as the hon. Gentleman clearly stated, is a concern.
There is another imbalance in the system. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that the married couple’s allowance, which provides support to married couples where at least one spouse was born before April 1935, is worth £8,355 a year. Should we not also be looking at providing for those families with young children who are in the lowest socioeconomic bracket and supporting them similarly?
I could not agree more and I would like to make a comment on that later. New clause 3 clearly outlines the importance of that, but unfortunately we do not have the opportunity to support it today. I am sure the Minister, who knows I respect her greatly, will be able to respond to some of our concerns.
The IFS has demonstrated that, in contrast to the personal allowance, the transferable allowance results in 70% of the benefit going to those in the bottom half of the income distribution. The problem is that so far this has received only symbolic recognition. That has had two effects. First, the fundamental marriage accessibility challenge has not really been addressed, which is a massive issue given the impact on life chances of being brought up in a married home compared with a non-married home. Secondly, the very limited symbolic recognition has translated into low take-up. Given the distributional impact of the two tax policies and the impact of the transferable allowance on life chances, I have to say that if the Government are to have one symbolic policy and one substantive policy, they have got it the wrong way around. I say that with great respect. It would have been wiser to focus investment on the transferable allowance rather than redistribute billions to those in the top half of the income scale by raising personal allowances. I believe that we urgently need to change that. If the allowance cannot be made generally available to basic rate married couples, it should be focused, as the hon. Member for Congleton said, on families with children under five.
The review proposed in new clause 3 would deal first with the
“level of take-up of the allowance”.
I understand that the Minister has indicated some willingness to set targets for the level of take-up. I ask her to do that, if possible, because it would enable those who have not taken advantage of the married tax allowance to do so. The hon. Member for Congleton referred to the review addressing
“the impact of the allowance on individuals with children aged five years or under” .
We—and when I say “we”, I mean this Government and this House—should focus on families with children aged five or under, because it is in that group that child poverty is growing right across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am greatly concerned about, because child poverty levels in my region of Northern Ireland are the highest—a fact that cannot be ignored. We must do something to address this issue.
As always, the hon. Lady is wise in her interventions. I thank her for what she said, which underlines other important issues. If we can help at that critical time when the pressure is on, I believe that this House should do so. I hope that the Minister will do so, too, in her response.
The impact of the allowance on low-income households also needs to be addressed, as new clause 3 proposes. I hope we can do that at the right time. The new clause refers finally to
“ways in which the allowance could be changed to target low-income families with young children.”
Those points clearly illustrate for me what is necessary in this Bill, although the provisions may not be as hard and fast as I would like them to be.
Let me conclude; I am conscious of the time. In the longer term, there is a pressing need to adopt a more balanced approach to the resourcing of raising the personal allowance and increasing the transferable allowance. I fully support the transferable allowance and I would have hoped that the Government could commit themselves to it. Speaking as someone committed to progressive tax policy which targets those in the lower half of the income distribution scales rather than those in the top half, if the proposal means less money going to the personal allowance, in my judgment and, I believe, in the judgment of many in this House, that would be no bad thing.
I wish to speak to new clauses 15 and 19, and amendments 141 and 180 to 182, which were tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I shall also touch on a few of the other amendments and new clauses in the group, which has turned into a bit of a rag-bag of issues.
New clause 15 relates to VAT on energy-saving materials. The new clause would prohibit the making of any order that would have the effect of raising the rate of VAT on the installation of energy-saving materials or any individual category thereof. In short, it would prevent the Government from implementing their planned hike in VAT through secondary legislation.
For hon. Members who might have forgotten the background, let me briefly recap how our ability to debate this amendment today came about. Amid the fallout from the so-called “ultra-shambles” Budget, the Government were forced to become the first in history, so far as I am aware, to accept an Opposition amendment to their Budget. It was designed to block the Government’s planned 300% increase in VAT on solar panels and energy-saving materials—essentially a green energy tax hike. The solar tax alone would add £1,000 to the cost of a household solar energy installation, punishing those who are trying to do the right thing and do their bit to halt climate change. It would also put at risk thousands of jobs in an industry that is already expected to experience up to 18,700 job losses, as was conceded by the former Energy Secretary, and this tax raid would have caused even more damage. For those reasons, we tabled an amendment to the Budget to enable the Chancellor to use the Finance Bill to maintain the current rate of VAT on green energy and home insulation.
The Government initially claimed that a European Court ruling prevented them from stopping the tax hike, although it was apparent that they had failed to negotiate at European level to protect the renewables industry. None the less, the industry made very clear that there was room, even within the ruling, to avoid the drastic measures that they were planning to impose. When that led to a significant number of Conservative Members adding their weight to calls from Opposition Members, it appeared that the Government would be defeated on the issue. Ministers initially backed down, claiming that what we were proposing had been their position all along, only to avoid making such a commitment when pressed during Treasury questions and, just a few weeks later, during questions to the Secretary of State for the now abolished Department of Energy and Climate Change.
That is not surprising, given the Government’s abysmal failure to provide any kind of certainty for the renewable energy sector in the United Kingdom. Over the past six years, they have consistently undermined support by, for instance, cutting the feed-in tariff by 64%, scrapping tax relief for clean energy projects, and removing subsidies for new onshore wind farms. The £1 billion for investment in carbon capture and storage has also been scrapped. At the same time, safeguards to reduce the environmental risks posed by fracking have been stripped away, and fracking under national parks has been given the go-ahead. The executive director of Greenpeace UK put it succinctly recently, saying:
“A tax hike on solar panels was just the latest addition to a litany of poor decisions”.
He also said that the Government should accept that they had
“a reverse Midas touch on energy investment”.
This would be an opportune time for the new Chancellor and his team to signal a change of direction by accepting our new clause, but I fear that, given the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Conservative party’s husky-hugging days are long gone. I am pleased, however, that the Government have finally seen fit to publish the report by the Committee on Climate Change on the compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets. I can see now why they sat on it for four months.
The report states:
“Our assessment is…that onshore petroleum extraction on a significant scale is not compatible with UK climate targets”.
That, it says, will remain the case unless three key tests are met: first,
“Well development, production and decommissioning emissions must be strictly limited”;
“gas consumption must remain in line with carbon budgets requirements”;
and thirdly, the report specifies the importance of
“Accommodating shale gas production emissions within carbon budgets.”
Does the Minister agree, therefore, that tighter safeguards in fracking—for which Labour consistently called during the passage of the Bill that became the Energy Act 2016 —are now absolutely necessary?
I digress. Let me conclude my remarks about new clause 15. Opposition Members want to ensure that the original solar tax U-turn is guaranteed in statute in the Finance Bill, to prevent a second U-turn. That would give the renewable energy market the certainty that it needs and deserves, and would, we hope, send a signal that the new Administration are prepared to look again at the future of the industry in a green economy. If we are to take seriously the intention of the new Ministers to rethink these fundamental issues, now is the time for them to show it.
New clause 19 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting). As my hon. Friend explained so articulately, it would require the Government to review the impact of the measures in the Bill on households at different levels of income. It would also require the Chancellor to review the impact of Government fiscal measures on households at different levels of income at least once in each financial year. It is an excellent new clause, and it has the full support of the Labour Front Bench.
As I pressed on the Government earlier today in the capital gains tax debate and yesterday on corporation tax, this Bill has unfairness at its very core. The reduction in CGT alone amounts to a tax giveaway to 200,000 people—just 0.3% of the population—of around £3,000 a year on average. Clearly this Government conduct no distributional analysis of the measures they introduce, or if they do the results are so bad that they do not publish them. This amendment would force the Government to publish such analysis, and therefore I am pleased to have heard the Minister’s earlier comments; it seems that the Government are seriously considering this matter and I hope she takes it forward.
Amendments 180 to 182 specify that the chair and tax director of the OTS would be appointed and terminated only with the consent of the Treasury Committee, in line with what happens with the Office for Budget Responsibility. A similar Labour amendment, which would have had the same effect, was debated in the Public Bill Committee, but we did not divide the Committee on it. During the course of that debate I made the point that while Labour supports establishing the OTS on a statutory footing, we feel its independence is of the utmost importance. As I am sure the Minister is aware, Labour has placed on record our concerns about the OTS potentially being used for political purposes, and ensuring that the chair and tax director is accountable to the Treasury Committee seems a sensible approach to safeguarding its impartiality. Again, I am pleased to hear today that the Minister seems to be taking our opinions and those expressed in the House today seriously.
Amendment 141 would introduce a de minimis tax exemption for residual cash balances remaining in a share incentive plan when they are donated to charity, with an upper cap of £10. This seems like an extremely sensible suggestion, and the Labour Front Bench is supportive of the amendment. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on tabling it and explaining it so articulately.
I shall say a few quick words on new clause 8 in the name of the hon. Members for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin), for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell). This new clause would require a review of how the changes to the tax on dividend income will affect directors of microbusinesses. There are some concerns, as we have heard today, that the changes to dividend taxation will have a detrimental effect on the owners of microbusinesses. Jason Kitcat, who has become quite famous today, has done some detailed analysis which shows that the dividend tax changes included in clause 5 and schedule 1 are somewhat regressive in nature. For instance, Crunch analysis shows that a limited company director paying themselves through dividends would be paying £1,528 more a year when their pre-tax profits are £48,000, whereas a director with £78,000 in pre-tax profits would only be paying £1,343 more in tax.
The Federation of Small Businesses has also stated that these measures have caused substantial disquiet among its members. This is especially acute for members on modest incomes who, unlike their employed counterparts, will now see a rise in their tax liabilities. This is very worrying and indeed makes the case for distributional analysis, referred to in relation to new clause 19, even more important. A review of the impact of these measures therefore seems quite sensible at this stage and we will support the SNP if it divides the House on this issue.
Finally, Government new clause 9 relates to the tax treatment of supplementary welfare payments in Northern Ireland. The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group has outlined some technical points for clarification on which I hope the Minister can shed some light: in essence, which payments will be taxable? The Budget said:
“Where the Northern Ireland Executive intends to top-up UK-wide benefits from within its block grant as it implements welfare reform, the Government will exempt from tax the top-up payments to non-taxable benefits.”
The implication, confirmed in the explanatory notes to the amendment, is that top-ups to taxable benefits will be taxable as well. However, if we take the payments to mitigate the impact of time-limiting contribution-based employment support allowance it seems that two situations are possible. One is that the person’s contribution-based ESA ends and they claim, or are already getting, income-related ESA. If the income-related ESA awarded is less than the person would have received through contribution-based ESA, they will receive a welfare supplementary payment to cover the difference. The second possibility is that their contribution-based ESA ends but they do not get income-related ESA, in which case the WSP will equal the full amount of the lost contribution-based ESA.
This is not really a top-up of an existing benefit in either case. In the first case, the difference between income-related ESA and what the person would have received under contribution-based ESA is given as a supplementary payment. In the second case, the supplementary payment replaces the lost contribution-based ESA in its entirety. Will the Minister tell the House whether, if the supplementary payment is replacing a taxable benefit, it will be taxable? This is a very technical area, so I would be grateful if she wrote to me to clarify the position following the debate.
In conclusion, I return to the question of the VAT treatment of energy-saving materials. The 5% reduced rate must be kept. It is good for the renewables energy sector, which needs stability, and putting that commitment into statute today would be a good start. I shall therefore divide the House on new clause 15.
The hon. Lady referred to the issues that we have debated this afternoon as a “rag-bag”, but I think that is a bit unkind. I prefer to describe the debate as a smorgasbord of wide-ranging issues and thoughtful speeches. I shall not repeat my opening remarks, but I shall try to add something to each of the areas where it is relevant to do so, in no particular order.
I thank the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who is no longer in his place, for welcoming the fact that the Chancellor is looking at the issue of distribution analysis, as he said he would in his letter to the Select Committee Chairman. We will comment further on that in due course. As a result, the hon. Gentleman decided not to press new clause 19 to a vote. [Interruption.] Ah, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) has returned to his place just as I was about to be nice about him. He must instinctively have known that I was going to thank him for his wide-ranging contribution to the debate. He presented me with some fair challenges as a new Minister. He also made some interesting points about tax simplification. I am due to have a meeting with the Office of Tax Simplification shortly, and he has certainly given me food for thought for my agenda. I reiterate that the Bill will put the OTS on a statutory footing, which I believe indicates the seriousness with which we take its work.
This has been a probing debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) is now on Select Committee duties and therefore unable to return to his place in the Chamber, but he made an interesting contribution on an issue that I know all too well—that of high-strength alcohol. This is something that needs to be looked at in the round, but I can assure him, given my three years in the job that I did before this one, that I take the matter very seriously. He was also generous enough to note, correctly, that the Department of Health has had a good deal of success, working with manufacturers, in reducing the number of very high-strength products on the market. I also note the discussion that took place about silver linings, in which varying views were expressed. I am sure that we will give further thought to these matters in due course. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and others also stressed the matter of the cost to society of some of those products.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate also talked about the marriage allowance. I want it to be clear that the Government’s focus is on delivering the existing policy, but I did mention in my introductory remarks that a quarter of those who benefit are households with children. We do not want to create a two-track marriage system within the allowance, but the Government are none the less committed to helping low-income households and those with young children through a wide range of other policies including, for example, tax-free childcare and the new national living wage.
I want to add that the online application process for the marriage allowance takes only seven minutes. I call upon the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton and for Enfield, Southgate and others who have an interest in this matter to assist us and promote it. I found in some of my summer recess meetings with groups in my constituency that awareness of the marriage allowance is low. It is of real benefit to lower-income married couples and all Members can contribute to promoting awareness and take up of it. None the less, I reassure all colleagues—my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) also spoke about this—that I will continue to look closely at take-up with HMRC. I also suggest that promoting the personal tax account is another good way of promoting the take-up of the allowance, because when appropriate people take up a personal tax account they can get a nudge to apply. I reiterate that HMRC will receive the millionth application next month, putting us on course to meet the OBR’s revised forecast for take-up this year.
I have already mentioned the seriousness with which we take the Office of Tax Simplification, but it is worth noting that the recommendations led to the introduction of cash-based accounting for tax. One million self-employed individuals took that up in the first year alone, so those recommendations were important.
I appreciate the intention behind amendment 141 tabled by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), but I said that the Government feel that the change would add additional complexity; I do not think he agrees with that. We have received no indication that fewer companies are making use of share incentive plans due to the administrative cost mentioned by the Opposition, but we will keep that under review. To tease out why our views differ on how the scheme might work and why the Government feel that the idea needs further development, if the hon. Gentleman is willing not to press the amendment, I am happy to meet him to discuss the matter and to understand why he feels that way.
I thank the Minister for those comments. I have a small sense of frustration as I believe that nearly every Conservative Member—indeed, all Members—would back the change on its merits, but I understand that Ministers have limited room for manoeuvre at the Dispatch Box, so I will accept that offer in good faith and will not press the amendment.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that and look forward to our meeting.
Several Members spoke about new clause 15, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) and the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles, and I reiterate that nothing would be achieved that is not already achieved by the Government’s tax lock. The reduced rate of 5% has applied to installations of energy-saving materials since 2001 and that rate remains in place and unchanged. As for the wider issues about European Union VAT and excise systems, we are considering a range of issues as we look to exit the European Union.
On new clause 19, as I said, we feel that the tax lock, for which we have already legislated, actually goes further by preventing the use of secondary legislation, about which the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles was worried.
Turning to new clause 18, I will repeat to the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell) what I said in my opening remarks: the Government do not expect the measure to have a large impact on rents due to the small proportion of the housing market affected—around one in five individual landlords.
On the SNP’s new clause 8 and the points made about the changes to dividend tax, I reiterate that the way in which such changes affect small and microbusinesses cannot be looked at in isolation. The Government take the concerns of microbusinesses incredibly seriously—I met the Federation of Small Businesses only last week, for example. As for listening to the concerns of microbusinesses, I point hon. Members to the changes made to the Government’s “Making Tax Digital” consultation documents as evidence of our sensitivity to such concerns and we look to respond to them when we can. It is important to note that we believe the dividend tax is still progressive overall, and individuals with higher incomes will still pay a higher rate of tax on their dividends.
On the wider changes to small businesses and microbusinesses, I point the hon. Gentleman to Budget 2016 in particular, as it is introducing the biggest ever business rate reduction, worth £6.7 billion. It has yet to come into force, but it will make a very significant difference to a very large number of microbusinesses across all our constituencies.
Lastly, I hope to answer the highly technical point made by the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles, as well as the point made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). Government new clause 9 will exempt from income tax supplementary payments that mitigate tax-exempt benefits paid by the Northern Ireland Executive. Any supplementary payments that mitigate tax benefits will themselves be taxable. As a result, all supplementary payments will be taxed in the same manner as the benefits they are mitigating, to ensure fairness and consistency with the tax system. I was asked whether the power being taken in this Finance Bill would be used more widely. No, the power being taken in this Bill will be restricted to only allowing for the tax status of the Northern Ireland supplementary payments to be established in regulations. Full welfare devolution has always been part of Northern Ireland’s devolution settlement. I hope that adds some clarity.
This has been a wide-ranging debate. We have touched on some good issues and found some common ground. The measures in this Finance Bill will benefit working people, boost UK businesses, and take on tax evasion and avoidance. In the days we have spent on Report, and during the Bill’s earlier stages, we have debated many aspects of it thoroughly, and on Third Reading the House will have a final opportunity to consider the Bill as a whole. At that point, I will set out the main reforms for which the Bill legislates, but I hope that this afternoon’s discussion has been helpful and that my responses to points have helped the various Members who raised them.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 9 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 8
Review of changes to tax on dividend income
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must commission a review of how the changes to the tax on dividend income implemented by this Act affect directors of micro-business companies, to include—
(a) the impacts across the distribution of such directors’ net income;
(b) the impact on company failure rates; and
(c) options for amending the law to minimise the impact on such directors who are on low incomes.
(2) The Chancellor must lay a report of the review before both Houses of Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act.”—(Philip Boswell.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
New Clause 15
VAT on Installation of Energy Saving Materials
“(1) No order shall be made under the Value Added Tax Act 1994 which would have the effect of raising the rate of VAT on installation of energy saving materials, or any individual category thereof.
(2) No order shall be made under the Value Added Tax Act 1994 to vary Schedule 7A of that Act by deleting or varying any description of supply within Group 2 (Installation of Energy Saving Materials).
(3) ‘Installation of energy saving materials’ has the meaning given in Schedule 7A of the Value Added Tax Act 1994.”—(Rebecca Long Bailey.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
Employment income provided through third parties
Amendments made: 132, page 26, line 25, leave out “December 2016” and insert “April 2017”.
Amendment 133, page 26, line 30, leave out “December 2016” and insert “April 2017”.
Amendment 134, page 26, line 32, leave out “December 2016” and insert “April 2017”.—(Jane Ellison.)
Standard lifetime allowance from 2016-17
Amendments made: 146, page 27, line 7, leave out “(4)” and insert “(4A)”.
Amendment 147, page 28, line 2, at end insert—
‘(4A) After subsection (5E) insert—
(a) benefit crystallisation event 5C occurs by reason of the designation on or after 6 April 2015 of sums or assets held for the purposes of an arrangement relating to the individual, and
(b) the individual died before 6 April 2012,
the standard lifetime allowance at the time of the benefit crystallisation event is £1,800,000.
(a) benefit crystallisation event 5C occurs by reason of the designation on or after 6 April 2015 of sums or assets held for the purposes of an arrangement relating to the individual, and
(b) the individual died in the period consisting of the tax year 2012-13 and the tax year 2013-14,
the standard lifetime allowance at the time of the benefit crystallisation event is £1,500,000.
(a) benefit crystallisation event 5C occurs by reason of the designation on or after 6 April 2016 of sums or assets held for the purposes of an arrangement relating to the individual, and
(b) the individual died in the period consisting of the tax year 2014-15 and the tax year 2015-16,
the standard lifetime allowance at the time of the benefit crystallisation event is £1,250,000.
(a) benefit crystallisation event 5D occurs by reason of a person becoming entitled on or after 6 April 2016 to an annuity in respect of the individual, and
(b) the individual died in the period beginning with 3 December 2014 and ending with 5 April 2016,
the standard lifetime allowance at the time of the benefit crystallisation event is £1,250,000.”’
Amendment 148, page 28, line 10, at end insert—
“( ) The amendment made by subsection (4A)—
(a) so far as it consists of the insertion of new subsections (5F) and (5G)—
(i) is to be treated as having come into force on 6 April 2015, and
(ii) has effect in relation to benefit crystallisation events occurring on or after that date, and
(b) so far as it consists of the insertion of new subsections (5H) and (5I)—
(i) is to be treated as having come into force on 6 April 2016, and
(ii) has effect in relation to benefit crystallisation events occurring on or after that date.”.—(Jane Ellison.)
VCTs: requirements for giving approval
Amendment made: 135, page 45, line 20, leave out subsections (5) and (6) and insert—
‘(5) In subsection (3A)—
(a) for the words from “In the second” to “does not include” substitute “An investment made by a company (‘the investor’) falls within this subsection if it is”;
(b) in paragraph (c) for “the company” substitute “the investor”;
(c) after paragraph (c) insert—
“(d) money in the investor’s possession;
“(e) a sum owed to the investor which—
(i) under section 285(4)(b) (read with section 285(5) and (6)) is to be regarded as an investment of the investor, and
(ii) is such that the investor’s right mentioned in section 285(5)(a) may be exercised on 7 days’ notice given by the investor.”
(5A) After subsection (3A) insert—
“(3B) In subsection (3A), any reference to a thing which may be done on 7 days’ notice includes a case where that thing may be done—
(a) on less than 7 days’ notice, or
(b) without notice.”
(6) In subsection (5)—
(a) after paragraph (b) insert—
“(ba) amend or repeal subsection (3B) in consequence of any provision made under paragraph (b),”;
(b) in paragraph (c) for the words from “made by” to “(3A)” substitute “falling within subsection (3A) may be held by the company”.’—(Jane Ellison.)
Abolition of dividend tax credits etc
Amendment made: 138, page 323, line 35, at end insert—
‘(iii) in Type 4 (tax charged at basic rate as a result of section 491), omit “at the basic rate”, and’.—(Jane Ellison.)
Aqua methanol etc
Amendment made: 139, page 547, line 31, leave out “1 October” and insert “14 November”.—(Jane Ellison.)
Our consideration having been completed, I shall now suspend the House for no more than five minutes in order to make a decision about certification. The Division bells will be rung two minutes before the House resumes. Following my certification, the Government will table the appropriate consent motion, copies of which will be made available in the Vote Office and will be distributed by Doorkeepers.
I can now inform the House that I have completed certification of the Bill, as required by the Standing Order. I have confirmed the view expressed in my provisional certificate issued on 5 September. Copies of my final certificate will be made available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website.
Under Standing Order No. 83M, as modified by Standing Order No. 83S, a consent motion is therefore required for the Bill to proceed. Copies of the motion are available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website, and have been made available to Members in the Chamber. Does a Minister intend to move the consent motion?
The House forthwith resolved itself into the Legislative Grand Committee (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (Standing Order No. 83M).
[Natascha Engel in the Chair]
I remind the Committee that although all Members may speak in the debate, only Members representing constituencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland may vote on the consent motion.
That the Committee consents to the following certified clauses and schedules of the Finance Bill:
Clauses 126 to 132, 141 and 142 of, and Schedule 16 to, the Bill as amended in Committee and Public Bill Committee (Bill 47).—(Jane Ellison.)
The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decision of the Committee (Standing Order No. 83M(6)).
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair; decision reported.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I remind the House just how important the measures contained in the Finance Bill are for the success and prosperity of people in this country. It is about putting more money back into the pockets of all the people who work so hard but sometimes struggle to make ends meet. It is about helping our businesses to grow and succeed, to invest and create jobs, and it is about protecting the nation’s finances by taking action to stop any individuals or businesses that seek to evade or avoid tax.
The Bill has been thoroughly debated for weeks, including with me as the Minister during the past two days. I therefore want to take a moment to thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for their excellent scrutiny of it and for the insightful and wide-ranging debate that has taken place during its passage through the House.
It is worth noting a couple of breakthroughs for which the Bill will be long remembered. The first is the amendment that was moved last night by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) on public country-by-country reporting, which the Government supported. The welcome degree of cross-party consensus cemented the UK’s position of international leadership on this issue. It is also worth noting the long and successful campaign by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) and others that has brought significant progress on the issue of VAT on sanitary products. There are a number of other important measures, some of which we have debated today, and we have made important Government amendments to ensure that things work as they should.
I pay particular thanks to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Gauke), for his excellent work. Indeed, he did the lion’s share of the work in steering the Finance Bill through each of its stages. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) and for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) for setting out the Government’s case at different stages. I express my general appreciation to all hon. Members who have contributed to the Bill.
The Bill means that we will do more to help hard-working individuals and families, more to help businesses large and small, and more to safeguard the nation’s finances. Above all, it will ensure that we move forward into the new future from a position of financial strength in our economy. I therefore commend it to the House.
I pay tribute to the Financial Secretary for the way in which she has led the final stages of the Bill and to the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), who has led for the Opposition. She took over in difficult circumstances and has handled it with great composure and competence.
It is clear to many people in the Commons today that this is a right bourach of a Bill, as we would say in Scotland. Not long after the Government voted down the SNP’s new clause on Scottish limited partnerships last night, the distinguished commentator and author Ian Fraser took to Twitter to say:
“Now we know @theresa_may’s pledge to ‘reform capitalism’ was so much hot air”.
Indeed it was hot air. The only people smiling as a result of the Government’s opposition to our new clause are the criminals and tax evaders who will benefit so much from it.
The Government’s opposition to our new clause on oil and gas, which like our new clause on Scottish limited partnerships had much external support as well as support in the House, shows that they are ill fitted to lead the oil and gas sector into the future. It does not end there. The Government continue to victimise Scotland’s emergency services in respect of VAT, to press ahead with reforms that are compromising the provision of affordable private sector rented accommodation and to ignore the harm they are doing to micro and small businesses with their so-called tax reforms. The list could go on. It becomes clear that the SNP will oppose the Bill.
A great deal has happened politically since the March Budget and during the passage of the Finance Bill. Therefore, on Third Reading, when we are invited to consider the Bill in the round, we should ask ourselves how this set of composite tax measures and forecasts for revenues and budget deficits fits into what the Bank of England thinks is a rather revised picture today, although its gloom is probably exaggerated.
We also had a very significant event from the Government themselves over the summer recess, which has not been reported to this House or debated in this House, but which should not go without comment: the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave his consent for the creation of up to £170 billion of additional money and for the Bank of England to buy large quantities of Government debt and substantial quantities of corporate debt, making available a lot of cheaper money to the banks. As a result of that needless monetary relaxation—there was absolutely no evidence at the time that the economy had suffered an output or retail sales shock in the way that the Bank foolishly thought was happening—we see that interest rates have been driven down. In particular, longer-term interest rates, which are the Government’s price of borrowing, have been driven down, and so we now must imagine that the Budget arithmetic has changed quite a lot in a very favourable direction, as there is now presumably a substantial reduction in the forecast interest rate costs for Her Majesty’s Government over the balance of this year and into the next financial year, assuming that those programmes of aggressive bond buying continue to depress the rates in the way that is clearly planned.
At some point the Government need to explain why they endorsed the Bank of England’s very aberrant view. The Government’s forecasts for the economy, which are the thought behind this perfectly sensible Budget that we are in the process of approving, look forward to the UK economy growing by 2% this year and by 2.2% next year. The Bank of England now says that the British economy will grow by only 0.8% next year. I have no idea why the Bank thinks that, but it would of course change the arithmetic, and instead of our welcoming this Budget with an even smaller deficit, because of yield compression and cheaper borrowing, we should be worrying at this juncture about the shortfall in revenues next year on the back of a much-revised Bank of England forecast. Clearly revenues will be down by quite a lot next year if growth is to be only 0.8% rather than the 2.2% that was the premise of this Budget.
I fully support the Treasury’s March view. It is extremely likely that the British economy will grow by 2.2%. I do not have my own model but I understand how the Treasury model works and I do not think that the underlying assumptions behind the model for the March forecast were unrealistic. I do not think that they have fundamentally changed as a result of the events of the summer, with, perhaps, the one exception that if the Bank perseveres with injecting anything like £170 billion into the economy, growth could be even better than the Government were expecting, because that is a far bigger monetary stimulus than they clearly had in mind when they constructed the March Budget.
The Bank of England needs to be careful. One of the curious things about the timing of its decision was that it made that announcement before we saw the real economy figures for the first eight weeks after the Brexit vote. Those figures turned out to be perfectly reasonable. They were not negative in the way that the Bank had thought. The Bank also made the injection of money just after some very important figures came out, ones that it had obviously read in a different way from me.
If we read the money supply growth figures and credit growth figures for the second quarter of the current calendar year, we will see that they started to accelerate. We had pretty steady 5% growth for quite a long period, which was giving us a combination of low or no inflation and 2% or so growth, but then those figures suddenly accelerated to around 7% or 8%. It is therefore even more bizarre that, on the back of those numbers, the Bank of England should suddenly decide to try to pump so much money into the economy, at a point where it looked as if the commercial banking system was sufficiently strong and confidence had returned sufficiently to mean an even faster rate of money growth than the one that was achieving 2% growth overall.
I am not suggesting that we need to drop this Budget because of that very large monetary stimulus, but the House should be aware that a very large monetary stimulus has been added at exactly a point where we had a perfectly sensible Budget based on perfectly sensible assumptions. The Government also need to be very careful before authorising any further monetary stimulus given what look like perfectly satisfactory numbers.
How could the Bank be that wrong—it is quite difficult to understand—and why did the Government endorse its strange interpretation? It says two things. It says that a Brexit vote could damage trade. Well, the one thing we seem to know from the very relaxed timetable the Government are proposing for getting us out of the EU is that in all probability we are going to be trading under existing single market arrangements this year and next year. There will not, therefore, be any damage to trade. I do not think there will be any damage to trade when we are out, but we are going to be trading under the current arrangements for the forecast period, so it is very difficult to see why we would knock anything off GDP because of trade. Indeed, we should be adding quite a lot in relation to trade, because clearly exports will rise quite a lot on the back of a much weaker pound.
The other thing it says is that there will be an effect on confidence. We have seen from recent surveys that there was a very short term hit to the confidence of big business executives who did not like the result of the referendum, but there was no hit to the confidence of consumers. They went out and spent more in the shops immediately after the Brexit vote than they were spending before. We saw, in the following month, that many senior company executives regained a lot of their lost confidence because they saw they were wrong and that the customers were returning to, or staying in, the shops. They are buying cars and new houses. Confidence has not collapsed, something the banks seemed to think would happen.
I urge those on the Treasury Bench to think about these matters extremely carefully. The very long procedure on the Finance Bill means that, in all probability, we are approving a Bill that was constructed in what the Bank of England thinks were very different economic times. I think the economic forecast and the economic times of March are very similar to the ones we should now accept, and I urge the Government to take that view. The House needs to note, if it is the view of the House, that on top of a Budget that has a reasonably relaxed fiscal stance compared with intentions a few years ago—something I am quite happy with—we now have a very large monetary injection. The Government need to be aware of what that might mean.
I thank the Minister and her Treasury colleagues, past and present, for their progress of the Bill through the House. I thank my own shadow Treasury colleagues, past and present, for their hard work in holding the Government to account. I thank my shadow Treasury team staff for their hard work on the Bill in the interesting times in which we have found ourselves. The Clerks deserve a mention for being pestered every five minutes by members of my staff—indeed, by the staff of other hon. Members, too. I make special mention of all Members who have worked very hard on the Bill and participated in a number of extremely thoughtful and interesting debates.
The Opposition will not be supporting the Bill on Third Reading. Although it contains some measures that we support, we simply cannot vote in favour of a Bill that does nothing to address the underlying issues in our economy. It has unfairness at its very core. I will, however, run briefly over the areas where we have found some consensus across the House.
First, there is the need to zero-rate VAT on women’s sanitary products. Many Members across the House spoke in support of this yesterday. I appreciate the Government’s sympathy with the campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff). I place on record once again my congratulations to my hon. Friend who, along with many women outside this place, has campaigned tirelessly on this issue. Unfortunately, we still had to divide the House, as the Minister refused to put down a firm date for implementation of the zero rating. I hope the policy will not be kicked into the long grass once the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament. I know the Minister supports the general principle of the policy and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury will be very quick to call the Government out should they try to avoid taking this matter forward responsibly.
We have also found a broad level of agreement on country-by-country reporting. I am pleased that the Government saw fit to accept the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). Again, I put on record my thanks and congratulations to my right hon. Friend for her hard work and determination on this issue. The amendment stated that the Government “may” exercise their powers in this regard. However, I hope that the Government “will” exercise their powers in that regard, and I shall follow their progress very closely.
We support the Government’s steps towards closing the so-called Mayfair tax loophole, even though they did not accept our amendment to provide that all carried interest would be subject to income tax—but that, unfortunately, is where the consensus ends.
One of the biggest problems facing the economy at the moment is low rates of investment. Investment by businesses has already fallen for the last two quarters and investment by Government is scheduled to fall in every year of this Parliament. Overall investment as a share of GDP is lower now than it was in 2007—despite rising profits to companies and an all-time low cost of borrowing for the Government.
The Government maintained in yesterday’s debate that cuts to the headline rates of corporation tax and capital gains tax contained in the Bill would incentivise business investment, but they did not convince me or my hon. Friends that that would actually be the case. When we debated the cut to corporation tax yesterday, I provided some helpful figures to demonstrate that it is not clear that reductions will deliver the investment that the country desperately needs. For the benefit of Members who were not in the Chamber yesterday, I shall briefly recap.
The House of Commons Library analysis shows that business investment was higher in the year 2000 when corporation tax was at 30% than it was in 2015 when it was a full 10% lower. There is no obvious correlation between a low rate of corporation tax and high rates of business investment. Furthermore, corporations are not in need of cash in most cases. Figures provided by the House of Commons Library show that the UK corporation industry was sitting on cash reserves totalling £581 billion last year, so something is clearly precluding them from investing in the future. Frankly, the measures in this Bill will do nothing to change that behaviour.
Because of this lack of investment, productivity in the UK has fallen. Every hour of work in Britain produces one third less than every hour worked in Germany, the US or France, while real wages have fallen by 10% since 2008. That is simply not good enough—it is not good enough for British workers; it is not good enough for the economy; and it is not good for our sense of national pride. We need investment in infrastructure, in skills, in innovation and in industry. Labour is committed to providing £500 billion-worth of investment: £250 billion will be Government capital spending; and £250 billion will come from the national investment bank.
The national investment bank, along with regional banks, would transform regional economies and rebuild our financial system. Government capital expenditure would be used to improve vital infrastructure such as transport, housing and energy supply. Those are the kind of policies that businesses need to thrive, and I hope that the Government will consider them. They have not put such policies into the Finance Bill, but they have the power to put them into further pieces of legislation as this Parliament progresses.
The Bill fails to address the long-term pressures facing the UK’s energy supply industry and fails to deliver on our climate change targets, as agreed just a few months ago by the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), now the Home Secretary. The renewable energy sector, as we heard in the previous debate, has been consistently undermined by this Government, and the Bill before us today does nothing to provide the stability or support that this industry craves.
Earlier today, we debated a specific amendment on the VAT treatment of energy-saving materials in the hope that the Government would make it clear in statute that the proposed solar tax hike would not go ahead. Unfortunately, the Government would not agree to our new clause and as such the insecurity for this industry continues. Furthermore, the Bill still makes sweeping changes to the climate change levy, which could seriously undermine its efficacy. In Committee of the whole House, we tabled an amendment calling for a review of the impact of the climate change levy on carbon emissions, but we were unfortunately defeated in the Lobbies. The change will go ahead with no assessment of whether the somewhat altered levy will do its job. That, too, is just not good enough from the British Government.
Over the weekend, we saw China and the United States ratify the Paris climate deal. Together they are responsible for 40% of the world’s carbon emissions, so that marks a huge step forward in climate change responsibility. Our Government, however, have not ratified the treaty, and have rowed back on almost all their green commitments since the election. I will not list them again, as it is an extensive list, but the Bill does nothing to tackle the issue of climate change head on, and, we believe, weakens measures that are already in place.
As for the key issue of tax avoidance, I must reiterate our view that the Government’s piecemeal approach of slowly introducing new little schemes and penalties is simply not enough. As I said yesterday, we need to see real commitment to an overarching strategy that provides genuine “legal teeth” to tackle the tax avoidance industry. At a time when our public services are tearing at the seams as a result of increased demand and a lack of resources, it is not acceptable for people to be allowed to avoid paying their taxes. It is time for tax avoiders to understand that being part of our society means paying one’s fair share towards the upkeep of that society. Labour has set out its stall with its tax transparency and enforcement programme, much of which was reflected in the amendments that we tabled yesterday. I hope that the Minister took some of our suggestions on board.
It is disappointing, to say the least, that the Government did not see fit to accept our new clause proposing a wide-ranging review of the UK tax gap and its causes. They have to appreciate that we must design a system that will really challenge the tax avoidance industry. We must overhaul our tax laws so that they are based on broad principles that will make avoidance difficult. A full public inquiry would expose the perversity of the industry, and would signal to the world that we are serious about stamping out tax evasion and avoidance wherever they may flourish.
Let me end by saying this. Labour wants to build a high-investment, high-wage economy. It wants to build an economy that will allow the UK to be a country of the future, leading the way on research and innovation; an economy in which everyone pays their fair share, and support is provided for those who need it; an economy and a society of which the British people can be proud. However, that can be done only with a Government who are committed to making it happen. We do not believe that the Bill will achieve those goals, and we will therefore vote against it this evening.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Bill read the Third time and passed.