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I must agree with my hon. Friendit shows almost the contempt in which the Government hold small businesses, which are the engine of the
economy. I made the same point in our debate on the previous clausethere was not a single contribution from Labour Members to that debate.
Mr. Jeremy Browne: Will the hon. Gentleman briefly mention which of the three main UK-wide parties have the highest percentage of Members in the Chamber for the debate, and whether that reflects their interest in the topic?
The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) confined his remarks to the amendment that we are discussing.
As I was saying, the Chancellor must decide which road he wants to follow: targeted incentives to encourage specific policy objectives, or a simpler, flatter tax. He cannot have his cake and eat it, but that is what he is attempting to do in this years Finance Bill.
Jane Kennedy: The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) was rather skating on thin ice, as he drew attention to the fact that there was one Conservative Back Bencher in the Chamber, although it is true that the Labour Benches are even more thinly populated.
Clause 6 and schedule 2 introduce the central reform elements announced in the 2007 pre-Budget report. The changes replace layers of complex rules built up over many decades with a significantly simpler framework. In particular, a number of old reliefs are abolished, leaving an easy-to-understand tax-free allowance and a single headline rate of tax. I make those opening comments to set the scene, but I want to return rapidly to the brief exchange between the hon. Gentleman and myself.
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie), whom I compliment on tabling the amendment and encouraging us to hold this important debate, raised a number of serious points and questions, and I was interested in the examples that he drew from Scottish experience. He spoke on behalf of the Scottish National party, who are in government in Scotland, so he bears a similar responsibility to the Opposition Members whose party would be in government. That is why the comments of the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) are important, and why the House requires a clear explanation of what those parties would do if their amendment was not carried, and how they would cost the consequences.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge asked me to explain the difference between the figures published in the PBR and those published in the Budget. We can argue about the figures, and it is right that we should do so, but there will be significantly more than a little hole if he does not accept that the clause should stand part. The figure in the 2007 pre-Budget report for 2010-11 was £900 million. The figures published in the Budget do not separate out the final estimated cost of entrepreneurs relief. The decision was made in the light of the whole score card, and the costs of the 2008 Budget are therefore somewhat less£250 million per year; £350 million next year; and £500 million in 2010-11. We have costed the measures, and the hon. Gentleman
needs to explain how he would cost such an action, and the decision that he is encouraging Conservative Members to make.
Mr. Philip Hammond: The Minister has costed the measures, but she has not told us where the Government found the money. That is important, because we have had a similar debate on the 10p tax rate. If the Government can spirit up money when they need it for things that they choose to do, why can they not spirit it up to solve other problems?
Jane Kennedy: Entrepreneurs relief was fully costed, and it forms part of the Budget figures. It is the hon. Gentlemans party that needs to find an answer to the question when he goes to the public in an election period with a programme that is £10 billion adrift, and adds a number of decisions made as a result of voting on the Budget.
The reformed regime is complemented by a focused capital gains tax relief for entrepreneurs, introduced in clause 7 and schedule 3, which we shall debate in detail in Committee. In progressing the capital gains tax reform programme, the Government have been guided by three key principles. First, we are determined to deliver a significantly simpler tax regime. There is no doubt that capital gains tax legislation had become one of the most complex parts of the tax code, and there are genuine benefits in sweeping much of that complexity away.
Secondly, the Government have maintained a fair and competitive capital gains tax regime. A generous tax-free annual exempt amount will continue to keep the vast majority of individuals out of the capital gains tax net. For those with larger capital gains, it is right and fair that they should make a contribution to the public finances, and for that minority, the new 18 per cent. rate remains internationally competitive. Finally, the Government remain particularly committed to supporting businesses and promoting enterprise. We recognise the contribution to the economy and to society that our entrepreneurs make, and have introduced a new capital gains tax relief focused closely on that group. We have also retained a number of targeted tax incentives, including the enterprise investment scheme and venture capital trusts.
Sir Robert Smith:
On the general point that has emerged from the debate about the process and the way in which business was engaged and consulted, will the Financial Secretary address the uncertainty in investors minds? They do not know whether the Government are going to spring something else on them in the next
pre-Budget report which, in fact, is a decision that is to be implemented. Will she reassure us that the Government are going to return to the notion that the Budget system should be about opening consultation wherever possible, not springing surprises on business? If we are to encourage investment, we need certainty and understanding of where the Government are going.
Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and I know that those concerns have been expressed. I hope to be able to respond to them in a few moments, if he will allow me, but first I should like to develop my response to the overall debate in a more structured way.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge said that simplification was a good and valuable thing, but that it should not be undertaken at all costs. May I tell the House that the reforms will replaceand this bears repeatinga significant amount of structural complexity built up over many years with a simple system based on a single headline rate and focused relief for entrepreneurs? That is a change well worth having. Entrepreneurs relief has been targeted to deliver a special 10 per cent. rate for business and enterprise, which is essentially what businesses have asked for. Indeed, when the pre-Budget report was published, stockbrokers Killik and Co. was quoted in the Daily Mail of 10 October as saying:
This has to be a positive move for investors. It will lead to many choosing to sell investments when its right to do so rather than holding on to investments in order to avoid a penal 40 per cent. tax.
Jane Kennedy: Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to quote one or two comments that are entirely independent of the Government? The Financial Times editorial on 25 January this year said that there was a strong case that 80 per cent.let me put my teeth back in; it is 18 per cent.is fair. Lisa Macpherson, the national tax director with accountants PKF said on 28 February that the new capital gains tax legislation is simple and sensible. On 24 January, John Wright of the Federation of Small Businesses said:
The Chancellor said specifically today that he wanted to help small businesses facing big tax rises from April and that is very good news indeed.
Mr. Hammond: Of course Killik and Co. is in favour of reducing the tax paid by passive investors in the shares of large companies quoted on the London stock exchange. What the Chancellor has created is a regime where those who invest passively in the relatively safe shares of large companies will be treated in the same way as those who get up early in the morning, who work and take risk over a lifetime to build up a substantial business. The Government have ended the differentiation in favour of risk taking and enterprise in this economy.
The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) suggested that capital gains tax should be taxed at income tax rates, but there is a clear view that 18 per cent. strikes the right balance. The Governments strong view is that that 18 per cent. rate rewards investment and enterprise, which is important for the economy. It ensures that
people with gains above the tax-free allowance of around £9,600 contribute to the public purse and it remains internationally competitive.
The proposals for capital gains tax reform have been controversial. We do not generally consult on changes to tax rates, but wide-ranging discussions with interested parties took place after the pre-Budget report, and the entrepreneurs relief announced in January was our direct response to the concerns that were raised. Her Majestys Revenue and Customs have engaged in discussions with tax experts on the technical detail and issued draft legislation for comment ahead of Finance Bill publication. The entrepreneurs relief directly responds to the concerns raised by business groups and it should receive a warm welcome in the House.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge said that this was the wrong time to be increasing business tax, and that case was advanced in the previous debate. However, the new entrepreneurs relief continues to deliver targeted support for business. The change will deliver a massively simpler system that will benefit everyone. The hon. Member for Taunton said that the entrepreneurs relief makes matters more complex, but again, I do not agree. The reform will replace a significant amount of structural complexity, which is a change well worth having. It will provide a simple system, based on a single headline rate and a focused relief for entrepreneurs. The relief has been carefully targeted to deliver a special 10 per cent. rate for business and enterprise, which, as I said, is essentially what business has been asking for.
Overall, the changes introduced by the Bill represent a major and welcome simplification of the capital gains tax regime. The hon. Members for Dundee, East and for Runnymede and Weybridge pressed the matter of entrepreneurs relief, saying that it was not good enough and it was a small concession, and they referred to the loss of confidence in the UK as a business environment, but entrepreneurs relief will deliver a 10 per cent. CGT rate for the vast majority of small business owners and material investors. That is a tax saving of up to £80,000 each.
Overall, the UK continues to be an excellent place in which to do business, as was said earlier. For example, the relative cost of starting a new business is now equal to that in the US and lower than in France and Germany, and that is why, as my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary reminded me earlier, 700,000 new businesses have started up in recent times. The overall changes that we are making are not only good, but welcome to businesses.
Mr. Hammond: Does the Financial Secretary recognise that the problem faced by the UK is not the number of start-up businessesthat is holding up pretty wellbut the number of businesses that reach the critical level of a £1 million turnover within three years? That number has fallen, so more lifestyle-type businesses are starting up, but fewer of them are growing to become scalable businesses that will create the jobs, wealth and prosperity that the economy needs.
Jane Kennedy: Again, that is precisely what the investment allowance is about. These are all matters that we must keep under review. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his acknowledgment that the start-up figure is holding up and is good news.
Amendment No. 8 seeks to delay the implementation of clause 6 pending a Treasury report on how capital gains tax reform will affect businesses seeking investment, investors who normally pay tax via capital gains tax, and the availability and cost of houses to buy and rent. It is unnecessary, and worse still, by abandoning the 6 April 2008 commencement provision, it would mean significant disruption for taxpayers who would no longer know where they stand. The Government have been clear from the outset that the reformed regime will be much more straightforward for people who pay capital gains tax. We announced the changes in advance to give people time to arrange their affairs accordingly, and we listened to the concerns that were raised by business groups following the announcement introducing a new tax relief targeted on entrepreneurs to meet these concerns.
Stewart Hosie: The Financial Secretary says that advance notice was given in order for people to put their affairs in order, but it was given only because of the hue and cry after the initial announcement last autumn. We then had the situation through February and March where accountants and other financial advisers were pulling their hair out because there was a lack of clarity as to what was meant, and people were pushed into selling businesses or disposing of shares, or were not sure whether to hold them. I will not buy the This will throw the whole system into chaos argument, because it will not. If the amendment were passed, it would allow the Treasury to do precisely what it says, which is to prepare a detailed assessment of the real impact of the real changes, so that people could take informed decisions in the future.
Jane Kennedy: I did not think for one moment that the hon. Gentleman would buy the argument, but I am confident that Government Members will accept the case and support the changes that we propose. We have listened to the concerns that were raised by business groups following the announcement. On the issues around property investments, it is important to remember that capital gains tax is just one of many factors that influence peoples decisions about when to buy and sell. More importantly, the Government have taken a number of steps, both through the tax system and more broadly, to promote housing supply and improve affordability for first-time buyers.
The hon. Members for Runnymede and Weybridge and for Taunton asked about the save-as-you-earn plan, and suggested that it might be unfair. Our figures show that the average amount of gain that a typical employee makes from save-as-you-earn options is well under the annual exempt amount of £9,600 a year, but I have no doubt that we will return to that point in Committee.
The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) made an entertaining and interesting contribution. I have been trying to read his lapel badges from a distance, and I now know what they say. In 1992hon. Members will remember that that was the year when the Labour party failed to get into governmentI remember wearing a badge saying Dont blame me, I voted Labour, but the wearing of lapel badges is a practice that I am happy to have grown out of.
The hon. Gentleman brought several serious points to the debate, particularly with regard to how capital gains tax reform might hit small business. Entrepreneurs
relief will deliver a 10 per cent. capital gains tax rate for the vast majority of small business owners and material investors, and overall the UK continues to be an excellent place in which to do business. He asked how another 28 pages of CGT legislation could possibly constitute simplification, but it is what they do that will provide the simplification. They will sweep away layers of complex rules built up over many decades, and the legislation as drafted is necessary to ensure that the various changes are made and followed through correctly. The end result will be a substantially simpler regime.
The hon. Member for Taunton asked whether the 18 per cent. CGT would lead to all sorts of avoidance. As he will be aware, there are already numerous rules in the tax code to prevent individuals from disguising income as capital gains for tax purposes. The Government have a clear track record of blocking tax avoidance if it arises, and they are consulting on options to strengthen the anti-avoidance machinery in respect of that issue.
Jane Kennedy: I have been interested to read the criticism that the tax code is getting ever longer. In truth, a lot of that has resulted from the tax law rewrite work, which has introduced simplification and clarity. It has also resulted in greater explanation within the code, which is therefore longer. The language is simpler, but reading it takes longer. The hon. Gentlemans criticisms are not worth taking seriously.
Mr. Newmark: I cannot accept the Financial Secretarys premise when the evidence is clear: Tolleys Tax Guide has doubled in size to 10,000 pages or so in the past 10 years. How could that be the result of tax simplification?
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