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New paragraphs 3 and 4 of new schedule 54A suggest that where there is an underpayment of corporation tax for one accounting period and an overpayment of corporation tax for another accounting period, neither late payment interest nor repayment interest will arise during a common period. The Institute of Chartered Accountants understands that this provision is intended to give statutory effect to HMRC's existing practice, but I would welcome confirmation of that.
A number of other questions are raised about particular provisions in those schedules and I would welcome the Minister's assurance that, if there have been errors in drafting, oversight or inconsistencies as a result of what is in this Bill, the Government will table the appropriate amendments in Committee.
I turn now to clause 7, entitled "Settlor to return excess repayment to trustees etc". Is there not a problem with that because of the change to make trusts pay income tax at 50%? Should the aim of the tax regime for trusts not be to maintain equality between income and gains of trusts and non-trusts? Does not taxing trusts at a 50% rate when the majority of settlors pay tax at other rates cut across that objective?
I understand that the scope of the clause is limited to repayments in respect of trust income deemed to be that of the settlor rather than reductions in the settlor's liability. Therefore, for the avoidance of doubt, can the Minister confirm that the settlor need not repay anything to the trustees where the settlor has miscellaneous income losses of his own brought forward which he has to use against the trust income?
There is also a general concern about the costs and administration burden on trustees, settlors and the Revenue in relation to implementing some of the measures in the Bill owing to the large number of tax repayments that now have to be made for small, or indeed very small, amounts, and the need for all settlors to be added into self-assessment. I would welcome the Minister's comments on that. People with no or modest savings or dividend income are in the self-assessment regime, which is complicated and worrying for some people. Even for modest savers, the regime can cost £100 or so for an accountant to prepare a tax return.
Clause 5, "Venture capital schemes", and paragraphs 1(4) and 2(8) of schedule 2, introduce a "financial health requirement" that prevents tax relief for investment in a firm that is "in difficulty". The explanatory notes make it clear that the issuing company is in difficulty if it is reasonable to assume that it would be regarded as a firm in difficulty for the purposes of the Community guidelines on state aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty. However, the guidelines would appear no longer to have any effect. Paragraph 109 of directive 2004/C244/02 states:
"The Commission will apply these Guidelines with effect from 10 October 2004 until 9 October 2009."
That implies that the guidelines have now lapsed. Will the Minister clarify whether the guidelines are still effective? Even assuming that they are, it is unclear how they will affect companies raising money under enterprise investment scheme or venture capital trust legislation, because paragraph 9 of the directive guidelines states that
"for the purposes of these Guidelines, the Commission regards a firm as being in difficulty where it is unable, whether through its own resources or with the funds it is able to obtain from its
owner/shareholders or creditors, to stem losses which, without outside intervention by the public authorities, will almost certainly condemn it to going out of business".
The implication is that for as long as the company can raise funds from its existing shareholders or creditors, but presumably not from new, external investors-that is not explicit-it does not fall within the definition of a firm "in difficulty". I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether that interpretation is correct.
Paragraphs 10 and 11 of the directive guidelines clarify particular circumstances in which a firm would be regarded as being in financial difficulty, but they appear to be subsidiary to the primary condition-if a company can raise funding from existing shareholders, those paragraphs simply do not come into play. I would like the Minister to confirm whether that interpretation is correct.
The matter gets more complicated, because paragraph 12 of the guidelines states:
"For the purposes of these Guidelines, a newly created firm is not eligible for rescue or restructuring aid even if its initial financial position is insecure. This is the case, for instance, where a new firm emerges from the liquidation of a previous firm or merely takes over such firm's assets. A firm will in principle be considered as newly created for the first three years following the start of operations in the relevant field of activity. Only after that period will it become eligible for rescue or restructuring aid".
I understand that in effect, a newly created company would not be regarded as a firm falling foul of the firm-in-difficulty provisions for three years after the commencement of operations. Even if it were, I would welcome clarity on how the measure would apply in a group context. Does the three-year rule apply to a new holding company, operating subsidiary or indeed to the entire group?
On the point in time when the financial health requirement is viewed, proposed new section 108B(1) to the Income Tax Act 2007 states:
"The issuing company must meet the financial health requirement at the beginning of period B",
which means the period beginning with the date of the issue of the shares. However, it is unclear how the Revenue will approach that in practice. The logical interpretation is that the issue should be considered only when the application for formal EIS approval is made using form EIS 1. It would create considerable difficulties for companies and their advisers if the Revenue could use the benefit of hindsight and withdraw EIS relief retrospectively, after a formal approval is given and certificates issued. It would also ultimately undermine the company's ability to attract that EIS investment, as there is likely to be considerable uncertainty on whether that relief would be available at all.
There is also a question over the meaning of "permanent establishment" in paragraphs 1(5) and 2(12) of schedule 2. Proposed new section 191A(7) to the 2007 Act states:
"A company is not regarded as having a permanent establishment in the United Kingdom by reason of the fact that it carries on business there through an agent of independent status (including a broker or general commission agent) acting in the ordinary course of the agent's business."
The implication is that if a company employee makes sales in the UK on behalf of the company, the company would have a permanent establishment in the UK.
However, there appears to be no requirement for that employee to be resident in the UK, and that a visitor carrying on business on behalf of the company would qualify. Will the Minister confirm whether that interpretation is correct?
There are other issues in relation to that proposal. Proposed new section 191A(2)(b) to the 2007 Act states that
"an agent acting on behalf of the company has and habitually exercises there authority to enter into contracts on behalf of the company."
It has been suggested that for clarity, the definition should follow that already established in the Finance Act 2003, which is that
"an agent acting on behalf of the company has and habitually exercises there authority to do business on behalf of the company."
I realise that there could be difficulties in respect of groups with a holding company, because the Bill requires the issuing company-the holding company-rather than the subsidiary company that has the trading operation to which VCT or EIS funds will be supplied, to have a "permanent establishment".
Charlie Elphicke: My understanding is that that provision is fairly well understood: "to do business" is a wider phrase than "to enter into contracts". The "contracts" provision follows the OECD model of tax conventions on "permanent establishment" in a given jurisdiction, and it therefore tracks better the language of international tax law.
Stewart Hosie: I understand perfectly well that "to do business" is a better phrase than "to enter into contracts", but I want the Minister to confirm the nature of the commissioned agent or an employee of the business. They might be based overseas while carrying out business here, and I should like absolute clarity and certainty on that rather than on the wider point on the difference between the phrases "to do business" and "to enter into contracts". I am with the hon. Gentleman on that.
I am asking that question because as the Minister knows, in many groups, the holding company is a pure holding company, and undertakes no activity other than holding shares in its subsidiaries. My point is that such a company is unlikely to constitute a business as defined in the Bill. Consequently, to require a company to have a "permanent establishment" through which business is carried on or, if the proposed definition is maintained, a
"permanent establishment...to enter into contracts",
could be seen as running counter to commercial reality. I would welcome further clarification on how such arrangements would be treated for those purposes.
I am dreadfully sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I did not engage in a classic Second Reading debate or address more widely issues that are not in the Bill, but I thought it important for someone actually to ask some specific technical questions to probe the Government on it, rather than indulging in the kind of debate that I am sure we will have on clause stand part later in the Bill's progress.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Before I call the next speaker, who will be Julian Smith, I remind hon. Members that his is a maiden speech, and there should be no interventions.
Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think I am the penultimate Tory to do so.
David Curry was my immediate predecessor as MP for Skipton and Ripon. David gave more than 33 years of public service to this country-10 years as an MEP and 23 years as an MP. As I drove with farmers through the Yorkshire dales last month, I heard yet again the huge gratitude for how hard he worked during the dark days of foot and mouth as he acted as a conduit between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the grisly front line.
Were he still a Member of the House, David would be a big supporter of the coalition. He passionately believed in the European project and was one of only three Conservatives to vote in favour of the Lisbon treaty. David had a distinguished ministerial career as Minister with responsibility for housing, where he introduced assured shorthold tenancy agreements, and as Minister of State at MAFF, although his policy to control fish stocks by limiting the number of days that fishermen could spend at sea was not popular-his effigy was hung from fishing vessels demonstrating offshore during one Tory party conference on the south-east coast. David has not only been a highly supportive former Member, but has become a good friend, and I wish him a long and happy retirement with Anne, his seven grandchildren, his dogs and his wonderful garden.
Skipton and Ripon is one of the largest constituencies in England, spanning 900 square miles and containing some of the most stunning scenery in our country, and it takes more than two and a half hours to drive from one end to the other-think James Herriot and one will picture the scene. People travelling on the Settle to Carlisle railway or driving through the Yorkshire Dales national park will see that this is one of the best examples of England's green and pleasant land. On the constituency's east side is Pateley Bridge, a mecca for walkers, but one can then visit the city of Ripon, with its 1,400-year-old cathedral, and the vibrant market town of Masham. We should probably pause in Masham as it is home to the Black Sheep and Theakston breweries-I know you enjoy a pint, Mr Deputy Speaker, but not as much as one of the other Deputy Speakers.
My constituency is also remarkable for the character of those who live in it. They are independent, driven, hard-working and proud of their Yorkshire roots. The big society has been operating here for years. Doctor's surgeries, councils and charities are all working extra hard to deal with the challenges of operating in the most rural county in England. Apart from the Skipton building society and Wolseley, agriculture and small businesses provide the vast majority of employment, and it is on behalf of those small businesses that I wish to speak briefly today. Skipton and Ripon is not like the south-east, Leeds or Manchester-many people have no choice but to make it on their own. Under the previous Government, the small business owner-the individual-as I was when, aged 27, I set up a business from the front room of my flat, has been given much more than his core business to worry about.
Let us hear from two budding, if older, entrepreneurs, who are into property-let us call them Basil and Sybil, as they want to set up a new hotel in the heart of the
dales. They reach Companies House in London, where it is recommended that they set up the company online. They go online, but the forms cannot be downloaded as only dial-up speeds are available in Littondale. They want a waiter, a new Manuel, so they start some interviews, but because of the new equalities legislation they worry about asking candidates how they would cope with the very steep and rickety steps around the property. They read a business book to get up to speed on the new rules, but Basil's eyes glaze over as he learns how to calculate employers' national insurance, employees' NI, pay-as-you-earn, student loan repayments, and maternity and pension payments. And when they need an injection of cash they call the bank, but are told that despite their excellent business plan, the bank is not lending to the hotel sector
We have to do better. We are desperate for private sector jobs. Contrary to what the shadow Minister said, the coalition has made a great start on addressing this issue by lowering corporation tax, scrapping the jobs tax and waiving national insurance for new small businesses setting up in Yorkshire. Initiatives such as the venture capital provisions in this Bill are also important steps, but there is more to do to create better conditions for small business-there is more to do beyond finance and, in particular, in the area of employment law.
There has been an explosion of employment law in the past 10 years, from the previous Government and from Brussels. As a small business owner trying to do the right thing, employment law took hundreds of hours of my time. People should try disciplining an employee with the three-step written process when they share the same tiny room with them-it feels ridiculous. Imagine, having started your business, you hire a graduate and four days in she asks for the free eye tests that she understands are her legal right because she uses a computer. Outrageous EU discrimination laws with limitless liability mean that even the most innocent mistake can leave a business owner broke. Additional paternity leave plans by Labour will be introduced next year and the coalition has plans for further reform, so business will get organised for one change and then have to change again in the near future. In addition, has anyone really worked out the impact on very small businesses of both men and women now being able to take up to six months off after having a baby?
Other legislation coming down the track in the next year includes the agency workers directive, the pregnancy workers directive, the removal of the default retirement age and a new right to request flexible working and training. Who is representing the challenges faced by the hard-pressed owner-manager as this legislation is developed? For BP or HSBC all this kind of legislation is manageable, because they can pay for human resources professionals and they can afford their lawyers. People who run small businesses, such as those in Skipton and Ripon or the one that I ran, are their own HR department and they have to manage these things themselves.
We have to do something now to stop new employment legislation for the next two years-these are two years when we need small businesses to feel as free as possible to take on staff. In the longer term, we need to consider more exemptions for small business, acknowledging that it cannot cope with the same burdens as bigger firms. I wanted to represent the challenges faced by small business owners in my maiden speech. Thank you
for allowing me to do so, Mr Deputy Speaker, and may I finish by encouraging anyone beyond this House who has even the smallest desire to set up a business to go for it? It is a fantastic experience and, as this Bill shows, the Government, I and many of my colleagues on the Back Benches will do our very best to support these people and give them a strong voice.
Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): First, may I congratulate the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) on his fine maiden speech? As a railwayman's daughter, my recollections of being forced as a small child to suffer the Settle to Carlisle railway as a holiday are still with me. His is an extremely beautiful part of the country and he made an excellent maiden speech.
I welcome many of the measures in this Bill. As has been said, many of them will receive cross-party support and were due from the previous Government's Budget in March. A good, effective tax system, well resourced, is the mark of an excellent democracy, so it is important that Members of Parliament take care to ensure that our tax system functions well. I therefore want to say something about tax and its collection, and to highlight two vital points where this Government have missed an opportunity to implement change that could benefit our economy at this very difficult time.
Hon. Members may not be aware that many employees of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs work in Liverpool, the Wirral, Merseyside and the Liverpool travel-to-work area. Many such staff now work in my area as a result of the shifting of Government work to areas where wages are lower and it is more effective to locate staff. Their work is largely not commented on, especially in this place, even if it is good, high-quality work. We often talk about public servants, but few of us ever think to congratulate those working to ensure that our tax system functions well-that is part of what I want to do today.
I hope that the House will permit me to share the fact that one of my first experiences as a newly elected Member of Parliament was of some HMRC staff coming to see me at my newly opened constituency office. They were very fearful of changes that the new Government looked as though they might implement and they wanted to raise some of their concerns with me, particularly those relating to the resources that might be available in the future. As has been mentioned, over the past three years they have increased the yield from interventions by 60%. That is a good record and all of us want to see that continue. We legislate in this place-we debate and we pass Bills that become law-but that is all just words; we are dependent on the good work of HMRC to make real our choices and decisions. So we should not treat those staff with scant regard and we should take seriously the problems that they might have. In fact, my experience of meeting and speaking to HMRC staff has revealed that, like many in the public sector at this time, they are operating under a cloud of uncertainty.
I appeal to Ministers to act with transparency as much as they can, to keep in consultation with staff at all times and, in particular, to pay attention to whether HMRC has sufficient resources to act out the consequences of the choices that they make. The child benefit changes
might place further work burdens on HMRC staff and we politicians owe it to those staff to ensure that they have enough resources to act on the consequences of our decisions.
I wanted to discuss a couple of opportunities that the Government have allowed to pass them by. One main feature of the Budget that concerned me greatly was the VAT rise to 20%, and I believe that Grant Thornton has estimated that that increase will cost individual households about £500 a year. There is sincere concern among many people about the harm that that could do to our economy. In my area, the recovery is fragile. I am very grateful for the intervention of Deloitte, which has put on record where business and consumer concerns lie. However, I know from speaking to people in my constituency that business confidence is still fragile and I worry what the increase in January will do. I worry what the increase in the cost of the contents of their shopping baskets in January will do to families, and I worry that because of the VAT rise many small businesses in my constituency will face a tougher time after Christmas than they have in the past 12 months.
Let us be clear that we have every indication that that measure is a permanent rise-it is a permanent shift in who pays what tax. We debated earlier the contrast with Labour's temporary VAT reduction. I remember very well the restaurants in my area putting out temporary notices amending their menus-it was very clear to everybody that it was part of the stimulus and part of the Government's work to get us through that time. That is not the case with the current VAT rise, which is a totally different thing. It is a regressive increase in tax.
I absolutely believe that, over time, we must seek to reduce the deficit, but I do not feel that raising VAT is the way to do it. One thing that has not been mentioned so far is the impact of a lower tax take on the deficit. We need to recognise that part of that lower tax take has come from unemployment caused by the global downturn. We need to make strategic investment in this country in the things in which we have a competitive advantage-in high-tech areas-so that we can increase employment and bring the budget back towards balance. That is the way to do it, rather than introducing a permanent shift in who pays tax in this country. It will hit families in my area harder than many; in fact, it will hit families harder in Wirral than it will hit those who live down the road in Cheshire, in the Chancellor's constituency.
My second point builds on some of the debate that we have had this evening about businesses of all sizes. I am thinking specifically of small to medium-sized businesses in my constituency, representatives of which I have met recently. In fact, since I was elected in May I have been speaking with businesses in my area, which-hon. Members might not know this-are science-led. We have an excellent part of the knowledge economy in my constituency as well as many high-tech businesses that supply the electronics industry in Korea and other places. We have Unilever, which carries out high-end research; staff at Unilever's research and development lab in my constituency have more than 200 PhDs among them. There are also many feeder businesses to those science and high-tech industries. Investment allowances are no small fry to us.
In two cases recently, I have been called in to meet a business that is about to move jobs out of my constituency. In both cases, after having analysed the situation, it has seemed that capital investment in new technology could
have stopped that. The motivating factor for the removal of those jobs is the lack of capital investment and I want the Government to pay great attention to what more they can do to incentivise business to make capital investment in our country, because that will make our economy sustainable in the long run.
Let me contrast that with corporation tax, which helps big businesses that are already in profit to keep their profits. A corporation tax cut across the board does nothing to incentivise business to make capital investment. Only this morning I was speaking to people at a business in my constituency. I asked what one thing I could tell the Government to do that would help their business to invest for the long term, and they said, "Help us make those investments: introduce more allowances that enable the investment that will help to protect our employment for the long term."
Alec Shelbrooke: Does the hon. Lady not agree that competitive corporation tax would attract international investment into this country and develop jobs for our economy? We must play on the global stage, not just in Britain.
Alison McGovern: We have competitive corporation tax. The hon. Gentleman is right that we must play on the global stage. Many of the companies in my constituency that I am talking about play on the global stage. I have seen the difference that other countries have made in working with business to ensure that they invest in their technology, which keeps them here for the long term. Let us consider, for example, the historical difference in the German automotive industry, where the Government did just that. We came very late as a country to that approach-to that industrial activism and to that investment in high-tech industry to secure employment for the long term.
I ask Ministers to consider their role. When we are dealing with global companies, the Government must always discuss with them the changes in their industry and what the next move needs to be in investment. I do not feel that an across-the-board corporation tax that hands profits back without any discussion about what is done with them is the way forward.
Charlie Elphicke: Does the hon. Lady not note with concern that the UK's high rate of corporation tax, relatively speaking, has caused a whole load of British companies to leave the UK, thus destroying jobs and money?
Alison McGovern: I merely disagree on the facts. I disagree that we have had an overly high level of corporation tax and that we have not had inward investment. I would invite the hon. Gentleman to come with me to Vauxhall Motors or Unilever in my constituency, where they have just invested millions of pounds in high-tech kit that means that that research will go on in this country in the long term. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on the facts, I do not think that what he says is the case, and I do not think that that is what is happening. There is a risk that it might happen in the future, unless the Government show an active approach to working with businesses to ensure that they have the right incentives to stay and invest in Britain.
In conclusion, I have three points that I ask the Government to take into account. I ask them to consider, on an ongoing basis, the effectiveness of HMRC and
whether the resources allocated are enough to bring in the necessary taxes to bring the budget further towards balance. I question what more they can do to promote real growth and the rebalancing of our economy. I worry about the effect of the VAT rise on those people who are least able to cope with it and that that will yet again distort the economy in Britain. Our economy actually operates very differently in different geographical areas. I do not mean to point out a north-south divide, because parts of the south-west are likely to suffer in similar ways to my area. We need to be careful at this important time. Much can be done to work with businesses and assist them in making investments, and I hope that the Government will consider that as the Bill goes forward.
Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) on making such an excellent maiden speech. He was erudite, and he was absolutely correct in what he said about David Curry, a man I know. My hon. Friend described his experience from his constituency and as a small business man, and I have had exactly the same experiences myself. I could not disagree with a word he said, and he said it very well indeed.
I have listened to a number of speeches today-in fact, I think I was five years younger when I got here, although it was only a few hours ago. I did not want us to repeat the debate that we had on the Budget before the recess, because this debate is to discuss what the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) described as technical innards. However, we have heard about a lot more than technical innards, and much has been said about the economy in general.
I must say that I cannot believe the advancing amnesia among the Opposition. They seem to be in denial about what happened. The right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), as Chancellor of the Exchequer, decided that he wanted dramatically to expand the economy by borrowing a huge amount of money and spending it on almost anything that there was to spend money on, but it did not work. As soon as the Opposition's denial ends and they say, "Okay, we tried it, but as it turns out it was irresponsible and did not work", we can have serious budget debates. Instead, we have heard arguments such as those from the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) about people putting signs up in restaurants about a small reduction in VAT, which was apparently the great fiscal stimulus. I would love her to find one person in her constituency or in the whole country who said, "Oh, VAT is about 2% less, we'll go and eat tonight." Such things just did not happen.
Alison McGovern: I feel moved to defend myself. The point is that a VAT reduction would give the economy an immediate boost and signal temporary Government action to get us through. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is wrong about the impact of VAT cuts, but if he knows of some statistics or evidence I would be very happy to hear it.
Richard Harrington: Well, the cut cost in excess of £300 million, and it is common sense that people do not change spending decisions based on a 2% difference.
I shall move on, because time is running short and I wish to talk about two parts of the Bill. The first relates to the British film industry. The Bill contains a technical adjustment to film funding to allow more leeway in calculating the amount that is surrenderable for tax credit. That sounds complicated, but it is sensible. The real issue is the need for appreciation by this House of the film industry's economic contribution.
I must confess to having a constituency involvement, in that Leavesden film studios, where much of "Harry Potter" was filmed, are in my constituency. The American company Warner Bros has announced that it is acquiring the site, and that there will be a big increase in employment. Hopefully those studios, as well as Pinewood, Elstree and many others, will continue their prosperity.
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): My hon. Friend's mention of film studios tempts me to intervene. As he knows, Elstree studios are in my constituency in Hertfordshire, and Hertfordshire as a whole has a world-class tradition of film making. "Star Wars" was made partly in my constituency, as were many other famous films-he mentioned "Harry Potter". Does he agree that through financial incentives it is possible to build on that tradition and create considerable employment opportunities for many young people in a growing industry?
Richard Harrington: I thank my hon. Friend, and of course I agree with him. Our part of Hertfordshire is rapidly becoming the Hollywood of southern England-or its Beverly Hills, in the case of his bit.
There is no doubt that taxation of the film industry is important. According to a recent Oxford Economics study, the industry employs 35,000 people and makes a direct contribution of £1.6 billion to the UK economy. It pays about £445 million in tax, even without any multiplier effect being applied. The £110 million in tax allowances for it in the Bill and in previous Acts of Parliament represent very good value for this country.
Why am I speaking about the film industry, given that as far as I am aware the main political parties agree about the need to provide that assistance? It is because the industry provides an example of not only some of the best uses of Government credits, but some of the worst. Following an earlier Act of Parliament, the accountancy tax avoidance industry used perfectly acceptable vehicles for investing in the film industry as tax avoidance methods. Film and television producers have told me that their films or programmes, which were effectively pre-sold so that there was no financial risk whatever, were used to provide large tax benefits through comparatively risk-free investments. That opportunity was correctly removed about two years ago, but that does not mean that the Government should ignore the perfectly reasonable demand for very high-risk investors to have a tax-efficient vehicle to invest in the film industry. That is good for this country and leads to vast amounts of money and a lot of high-quality employment being brought in. I accept that the Government have much greater priorities at the moment, but I ask them to consider introducing a proper, tax-efficient vehicle for venture capital investment in the film industry, in a way that does not allow it to be used as a method for tax avoidance, which is quite unacceptable.
Secondly, I feel that because of my experience in business and the continual discussion in the press and the House about whether the banks lend enough money to businesses, I should tell the House of my experiences in Watford. I have spoken to most of the major banks there and to nearly 100 small businesses to find out the exact position. Members will know that a Bank of England document shows that the monthly average of new loans has gone down from a peak of £991 million in 2008 to £564 million in 2010, which is a significant reduction.
However, the real question is not the volume of loans being granted but the percentage of loan applications that are rejected. That figure is never seen. The banks' criteria for lending used to be entirely based on property. Many business loans were really property loans in disguise, because they involved guarantees based on the personal houses of people who were borrowing money. Now the banks do not like lending money on property, so for the first time they are looking at small businesses' balance sheets, cash flow and business plans. They are treating them as stand-alone instruments.
I observed the figures in Barclays bank's main business lending office only two weeks ago. I saw people borrowing money and businesses having money advanced, but the reality is that the property-based loans, for the moment, have gone. That is one reason-not a macro-economic reason, but a practical reason-why lending is low. There is money available for small businesses. I agree that management fees are high. That is because banks have to spend a lot of time on a £50,000 loan, instead of just saying, "He's got a house worth half a million, so we are not worried about anything else." As we know, the spreads are high because banks can lend money to Governments for 2% over the base rate, so to lend to a small business banks have to consider a spread greater than that. There is more to bank lending than meets the eye, and we should consider the number of applications compared to the number of rejections.
I see that it is 8 o'clock. I know that other Members want to speak, so I shall leave it at those two comments.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I want to start by discussing some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington). He talked of total denial among Labour Members about what has happened, but probably demonstrates the same himself on behalf of the Members around him. The figures on unemployment, repossessions and business failures in my constituency this year and over the past two years during the recession are roughly half those on unemployment, repossessions and business failures during the Tory recession of the 1990s. Many Members on both sides of the House will have found that to be the case. The reason for that is the support given to families and businesses during the most severe recession since the 1930s and a decision to look after the human side at a time of greatest peril. I am afraid that that factor is in danger of being missed by this Government.
The decisions taken in this place, which my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) commented on, affect people's lives as they go about their everyday business. We need to consider that; this is not just a series of numbers. Some Members on the
other side of the House operate as if the cuts in spending and child benefit and the rise in VAT are just numbers, but the effect is very real for millions of people out there, and it is that effect that really counts.
The hon. Member for Watford also mentioned the multiplier effect. I see he is no longer in the Chamber- [Interruption.] He has moved seats; I apologise. The point about the multiplier effect is that it is key to providing the stimulus that will allow the economy to grow and the deficit to be cut. Only by growing the economy can we possibly have any hope of cutting the deficit.
It is the role of Government in a recession to step in and support the economy until the private sector is strong enough to take over. The reality is that, at this stage, the private sector in much of this country is not strong enough to take over, step in and replace the Government in growing the economy. That is why the issue is one of timing: how soon we make cuts and how quickly we can pay off the deficit. That is an important point, alongside the impact on people's lives.
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that the Government can grow the economy only with money already paid to them in tax? We therefore desperately need the private sector to be kicking off, and the Government cannot replace the private sector.
Bill Esterson: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point that is often made by Conservative Members, but if the private sector is not strong enough to step in and support the economy, that approach does not work. Only when the private sector is strong enough can it step in and behave in the way that he describes. At this stage, the recovery is so fragile that my concern is that we will follow what has happened in Ireland and slip back into recession unless we get this absolutely right.
It is crucial that the timing is right, which is why the Chancellor is now considering a return to quantitative easing as advocated by the Governor of the Bank of England. It is interesting that the Chancellor is looking at increasing the amount of money in the economy, which is done by borrowing-the other way of doing this. Even the Chancellor recognises that we have to get this decision right at this stage of the economic cycle.
History teaches us many lessons. In the '30s, and to some extent in the '80s and '90s, the then Governments decided to cut hard and fast. What happened was what we have seen in Ireland over the past three years: the economy grew smaller, and it grew harder to pay off the deficit, not easier. The lessons are there for us if we wish to learn from them. I hope that the Government will learn. As I have said, there are signs that the Chancellor is learning some of those lessons.
I also want to talk about the value of investment in capital projects. Tonight, some Members have talked about the way that many projects were implemented over the past few years. As I have shown by referring to low unemployment and low rates of business failure and home repossession, those investments in capital projects-not least the Building Schools for the Future programme-benefited local economies very much by providing work and business for many small and medium-sized enterprises. It is important that we keep that kind of capital spending going, which is why it was so wrong
that the Government cut Building Schools for the Future and many other capital programmes when they came to office.
The primary capital programme is another such example, and I raised the playbuilder programme in Education questions earlier today. There are also schemes such as the Thornton relief road in my constituency. Road projects are a great example of how a stimulus can be very effective in a short time, through the multiplier effect, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Watford, who has now left the Chamber. The way to pay off the deficit is by getting that stimulus in place now until the private sector is strong enough, and not to go back into recession, where the deficit will only grow.
A number of Members have mentioned the role of the banks and how they are operating at present. I have seen that myself as a number of constituents have described the circumstances that they face. Banks have been calling in loans and overdrafts at a moment's notice, using the small print, which they always reassured business owners they would never do. In some banks, the debt collection department often steps in and threatens business owners with either having to repay at a moment's notice or pay punitive interest rates. All that goes on without the relationship side of the bank knowing that it is being done. I have already had a number of examples of that in my constituency.
The behaviour of the banks also needs to be tackled, and I am pleased to hear that Members on both sides of the House, having experienced this through their constituents, are determined to take action. However, there is also the issue of the responsibility of the banks for creating the global financial crisis in the first place. We need to tackle that and ensure that it never happens again. We also need to ensure that those responsible for the scale of the crisis through irresponsible lending to people who could not possibly repay their loans and disguising that by using complex financial instruments are made responsible. We must come up with an effective way to deal with that in the long term.
I know that there has been discussion in Government circles of the international banking levy, and I would be interested to hear what Ministers have to say on that issue. My understanding is that they do not propose to go anything like as far as President Obama, but the opportunity should not be missed, because if we can get decent international co-operation on the level of levy that should be brought in, we have a chance of putting the international financial system in a far stronger position for the future, of finding a way to invest back in the global economy, and of ensuring a robust and lasting recovery.
A levy on banking transactions is a far fairer way of tackling the deficit than the kind of cuts being proposed. People to whom I speak in my constituency do not see how cutting child benefit or tax credits, or putting up VAT, will help to cut the deficit; they see it as taking money out of the economy and feel that they are not being supported. That makes them less likely to spend the money that will, ultimately, help businesses to get back on their feet. They do not see why people on middle and low incomes should shoulder the burden of sorting out the financial problems caused by the major financial institutions, and that is why we need to work closely with partners at an international level to sort things out.
I want to talk about why I think that some of the moves made by the Government will make it harder for us to cut the deficit and will, in fact, have the opposite effect to the one that the Government claim for them. As we have heard Members say, scrapping regional development agencies has a clear implication. By going from eight organisations to 58, it seems to me-this is also being said by business leaders, certainly in the north-west-that all we will do is cause duplication, with costs being repeated 58 times instead of eight times. The changes will make economic co-ordination more, not less, difficult. Also, many of the RDAs have a very good track record of generating inward investment. The move will cost more money and be less effective. We see the same kind of mistake being made in the health service with the scrapping of primary care trusts: that will result in the creation of more organisations that do exactly the same job, with a repeat of the costs.
I mentioned the proposals on VAT, which will take money out of the economy at a time when the recovery is still fragile. The VAT cut had the opposite effect, and I do not accept the arguments of Government Members who say that it did not. The VAT cut resulted in an immediate benefit to the economy, because the money saved was generally spent straight away: people had spare change, and they used it. That had an effect at a very local level, in the shops. Of course, VAT increases hit the poorest hardest, and the Prime Minister himself called VAT a very regressive tax when he spoke at Cameron Direct in May 2009. For once, he really did agree with Nick; Nick told the "Today" programme the same thing on 7 April this year.
In my constituency, 40% of jobs are in the public sector. What happens when those jobs are cut? When police officers, teachers or health workers lose their jobs, they stop spending money with those same small businesses that we need to thrive. They stop spending their money not only in the shops, but on builders, plumbers and other tradespeople. That puts pressure on people who are self-employed and who run small businesses, and not just on public sector workers. There will be an effect not just on the public sector but in the private sector, unless we get the approach right at this stage in the cycle.
In conclusion, we need to look to the banks in solving this problem. We need the banks to lend to small businesses, as Members have said, and we need to look to the banks to take responsibility through a global financial levy. The Government need to reconsider many of the approaches that they are taking, because they are going to make things worse; they are going to increase the deficit and make it harder to grow the economy, and their measures will not work in the way that they hope.
Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con):
I start by welcoming the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) to his party's Front Bench. He has been in the Chamber for most Finance Bill debates, and we have sparred a little bit along the way. I am glad to see him taking part from the Front Bench, but what a baptism of fire this is for him. You were not here earlier, Madam Deputy Speaker-one of your colleagues was
in the Chair-but the hon. Gentleman heard an unfortunate tirade from his hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who gave one of the most entertaining speeches that I have heard in this Chamber.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw had us all going. At one point, we wanted to cheer, but almost immediately afterwards we wanted to boo-and that goes for Members on both sides of the Chamber. His argument developed in quite an incredible way. As my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley) said, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw is the only Member who could play for both teams during a football match. It was quite an incredible speech. However, he did talk about deficit deniers, a term illustrated quite well by the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and even better by the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), who has just spoken.
The hon. Member for Sefton Central spoke about capital spend and investment, but surely he recognises that the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer also wanted to cut capital spend. We understand that the new shadow Chancellor and the shadow Cabinet are following the former Chancellor's plans for deficit reduction, which involved a reduction in capital spend. It would be fascinating to know whether the hon. Gentleman totally disagrees with his Front-Bench colleagues and thinks that they are completely wrong, or whether his argument was just confused. I really do not know where his argument was going.
Bill Esterson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Alec Shelbrooke: In one moment; I just wanted to draw on your comment about the US economy. You said that it was a model to follow. There has been an $800 billion investment-or stimulus, if you will-put into the US economy, yet unemployment rates there have grown quite significantly. That is why President Obama's popularity ratings have fallen.
Bill Esterson: I am sure that I did not mention the US economy, but we can check that in Hansard later. I want to pick up the point about capital investment. We need to be clear about the differences between the two sides on that issue. We Labour Members were clear that we would keep Building Schools for the Future and a number of other major projects going. We were looking at a long-term process for reducing the deficit. Those on the Government Benches proposed cutting all capital spending more or less straight away.
Alec Shelbrooke: I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, because he makes my point. You say that you want to keep the investment going on these capital projects, but you also say that you will reduce the capital budget. How? That does not add up. You simply cannot go on saying that you will spend money here and there, not raise taxes, and carry on borrowing. The argument simply does not add up. I became confused halfway through the speech made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw-
George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): So did he.
Yes, so did he. He seemed to be saying that unless the Government employ everybody in the country, no money will ever be spent. He said, "You can't reduce the number of people in the public sector, because they're the people who have to go to the sandwich
shop." Of course, people in the private sector do not eat or buy anything; they have a robotic existence. I wonder what happened before there was such a large public sector. The hon. Member for Sefton went on to give examples of private industry in his constituency that have benefited from loans from the regional development agencies. That is where I think the confusion lay. He was talking about Government investment, not Government spending on public sector jobs and so on.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the regional development agencies, but there was provision for a regional growth fund in the Budget. The Government have also put measures in place in the Budget to reduce national insurance contributions for those setting up companies outside the south-east, and have reduced capital gains tax. As I pointed out in my intervention on the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), that helps investment from international business to come in.
Yorkshire Forward, a regional development agency, says at the bottom of its e-mails, "We have created more than 52,000 jobs." No, it has not. Private business creates the job. If Government money is used, the job is not "created"; there was a subsidy that eventually has to be paid back.
Government money is just private money that the Government have nicked and are trying to put back. It is not our money. We do not earn it. We take it from the wealth creators. If we are not creating that wealth in the first place, how can we go on and spend it? The deficit deniers do not understand or do not accept that every one of us would like to stand here and say, "Do you know what? I'm going to replace every school in my constituency, and I want a first-class service." Every one of us wants a first-class service-that is why we went into politics-but we must be realistic. We must be pragmatic. We must understand that we cannot go on spending money as we have been doing.
I take issue with the suggestion that the move to a 20% rate of VAT is permanent and that we have no intention of lowering it because ideologically we want to tax more. Ideologically we want to tax more? I have never heard such nonsense. We are the party of low taxation. We made it clear in every speech that at each Budget we would review and lower taxation if we could. It has never been said that VAT would remain at 20%. One would hope that we may be able to move to a lower taxation rate.
In the short time that I have left, I shall move on to a specific topic. The Bill refers to closing tax loopholes. Everybody in the Chamber wants to achieve that because there is a great deal of revenue out there that the Government are not getting. Let us look at the way money circulates in the economy. Representations have been made to me that red diesel be used in emergency service vehicles. We can see the sense in that. Emergency vehicles are paid for through Government money, VAT is paid, and money is being circulated and coming back. That is a sensible argument and would impose no cost on the Exchequer.
I make a plea to the Minister to consider something else. I am proud that we have an excellent Yorkshire air ambulance-indeed, we have two. They are on BBC 1 every day at 9.15 am, relating their exploits in rescuing people who have got into difficulties in areas such as the Yorkshire dales. That leads me to say what an excellent
maiden speech my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) made, describing that countryside, where people like to go hiking. We know that accidents can happen, so we have the air ambulance.
Yorkshire air ambulance costs £2.628 million a year to run and not one penny comes from Government. It is all raised through charitable giving. I therefore urge the Minister to consider, when the time is right, exempting from fuel duty Yorkshire air ambulance, the other air ambulances and the people who contribute to the emergency services? They would still raise their money through charitable giving, but that exemption on the 162,632 litres of fuel that the Yorkshire air ambulance used last year would help greatly to reduce overall costs.
I close with a further plea. We have had several Finance Bill debates and all we hear, all the time, is cherry-picking: "We don't want to do this bit. We don't want to do that bit. The Government are hitting the poorest here. They are not doing enough for the rich there." Can we please start to look at the Finance Bill holistically? We have raised tax thresholds. We are reducing national insurance. We have raised capital gains tax. We are reducing corporation tax to bring in more businesses and create more jobs. We are putting in place regional growth funds. Can we please stop the cherry-picking, have a sensible debate and look at the arguments sensibly, holistically and in a grown-up way, and can we please stop denying that the deficit exists?
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): In the course of the debate, yet again, we have heard an awful lot of myths and legends. One of the biggest of those is the notion that because the Opposition have a different view of the economy, we are deficit deniers. You do not have to be denying a deficit to hold a different view of how it arose and the background circumstances, and a different view of how we get out of the situation that we are in. That is quite reasonable.
It is healthy that we have politics within which there are different viewpoints. The proof of the pudding will be apparent in a few years. If you are right, I will have to eat my words. I do not believe that those on the Government Benches are right, but we cannot tell just by throwing words at each other. It is not correct to say that somehow the Opposition hold the view that there is no deficit. That would be plain nonsense.
There are other myths and legends that we have heard today. One, which we heard from the hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley), is that the previous Government were guilty of not mending the roof when the sun shone. We hear that repeatedly. If building schools, hospitals and roads was not mending the roof, I do not know what it was. If by that Conservative Members mean that we should have saved the money and put it in a reserve somewhere, that may be a legitimate criticism, but to suggest that we were not investing in the country's infrastructure is plain wrong.
The hon. Member for Northampton South also suggested that the economic crisis was entirely our fault because of light-touch regulation. I may have been asleep through the years of the Labour Government, but I always thought I heard Conservatives saying that there was too much regulation, that we were the party of red tape and regulation, and that we over-regulated
not just financial services, but everything. We heard an excellent maiden speech from the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith). Although I disagreed with the entire political content, it was a good speech. The hon. Gentleman said that in his view there was too much regulation.
It is easy to say with hindsight that there should have been more regulation of the financial services industry, for example. I believe that there should have been, but when people say that we were over-regulating the economy, that is one of the myths and legends.
We are told that we do not want to leave our children and grandchildren in a big financial mess by not paying off debt, but equally, and perhaps more importantly, do we want to leave our children and grandchildren in the position that generations have been placed in by previous economic failures, by destroying jobs and creating long-term unemployment in various parts of the country? I do not want to leave that to my children and grandchildren.
We are allowed to differ and to hold different points of view and different economic theories. The difference is not about whether there is a deficit, but about how we got into the present situation and how we get out of it.
The previous Government managed to stop the rise in unemployment reaching the levels that had been predicted. That was the cause of economic stimulus. Far from the deficit spiralling, as we heard earlier from the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), the deficit did not rise as much as had been expected. Therefore, we were not in some sort of new crisis-that is what has been suggested-which justified an emergency Budget which had very little in it. The Finance (No.2) Act 2010 that we passed in a great hurry before the summer also had very little in it, and we lost an opportunity to make some important changes.
The public and private sectors are inextricably linked, and slashing jobs in the public sector will further reduce the tax-take, increase the demand on benefits and, in itself, increase, not decrease, public borrowing and the deficit. Equally, reducing our investment in infrastructure-not stopping it entirely, but reducing it more than we need to do-will ultimately put us in a more difficult position.
Just last week I visited two constituent households at their request. The problems that they asked to see me about had nothing to do with jobs; nevertheless, by no coincidence in both households there was a working-age construction worker who was desperate to work but could not find any in my city. One said that the last job on which he had worked was now a complete university building in the city, but we will not see much more of that kind of building by our educational institutions. He is very keen to work, but the jobs are simply not there.
Alec Shelbrooke: Everybody would like to see that investment, but, and this is the point that I tried to make in my speech, the previous Chancellor would also have cut the capital budget. I talk about deficit deniers because I do not understand how you can ask for capital investment to carry on when your shadow Front Benchers would, as I understand it, follow that plan to reduce the capital budget.
Sheila Gilmore: I thought I had covered that issue. We are not saying that there is no deficit or that there will be no reductions; we are saying that if you cut too far and too fast, you will worsen the current position.
Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): I am extremely interested in the fact that you admit that you would have cut the deficit, and I am extremely interested to know how you would do so.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Tempted as I am to answer the questions that are being posed about the deficit, I remind the House that the hon. Gentleman is not the only one in this debate currently blaming the Chair for everything, so I would be grateful if we could return to the convention, ensure that our language is correct and, if possible, keep me out of this argument-for now, anyway.
Sheila Gilmore: The whole matter is very much one of degree, not either/or. However, one other interesting difference between the Government and Opposition Front Benchers is that the Government frequently argue that high public spending and a big public sector act as a drain on, and kill off, the private sector. In the city of Edinburgh between 1997 and 2007, however, development and building-not just public sector building, but private sector building-flourished. In fact, the Royal Bank of Scotland built a huge corporate headquarters just outside the city during that period. The argument is that if we have a huge public sector, the private sector will shrink and disappear, and that, therefore, if we do the opposite, the private sector will suddenly rise up. I do not yet see, and doubt whether we will see, any great rise in the private sector. Where are the private residential houses and offices being built by the construction industry in my city? They simply are not there. They were at a time when, according to all the arguments that Government Members have put forward, they should not have been. If the public sector is so bad for the private sector, we should have had huge problems.
At this stage in the passage of a Finance Bill there are opportunities to do several things. We heard an interesting exposition of the importance to the film industry of tax reliefs and credits, so why did the Government decide not to go ahead with an equivalent tax credit for the video games industry? The city of Dundee, which is not far from where I live, suffered for many years after what happened to the old industries. It was a city of jam, jute and journalism, and it struggled for a long time, but the relatively recent expansion of the further and higher education sector in the city and the spin-offs in terms of the research and development have been very impressive. They have brought people back to a city that was losing its population, and they have encouraged young people who were educated there to stay there. Industries such as the video games industry, for which Dundee has become justly famous, have done that, yet for no good reason the coalition Government have stopped something that might have allowed the industry to develop and flourish. The opportunity exists in this legislation for the Government to reintroduce that opportunity, and I hope that they will do so.
I was at a briefing earlier today on the Robin Hood tax, a financial transaction tax that many organisations in this country advocate not only because they feel it
right that the banks, which did so much to cause the financial crisis, should contribute, but because it is a way of raising funds to deal with poverty and deprivation here and elsewhere. That proposal could be included in the Bill. It is well worked out, and I hope that, even at this stage, the Government will be prepared to consider amending the legislation in order to include such matters.
George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) on the magnificent maiden speech that he made earlier. If he is indeed the penultimate Conservative of the new intake to speak, it was certainly worth the wait. I am sure that the people of Skipton and Ripon can see that they have made an excellent choice. I also take a moment to congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on his elevation to the Labour Front Bench; like the Geoffrey Boycott of the debate, he has stood at the crease manfully as his colleagues behind have been skittled out.
In supporting this key plank of the coalition Government's programme to tackle the deficit, I wanted to stress three key points in the time available. There is the seriousness of the crisis in our public finances that we inherited from the Opposition; I have to say that it is disappointing not to see more of the people responsible for the crisis here this evening. Secondly, there is the key role of the private sector in generating the growth that we now need to pay for the public services that we all cherish. Thirdly, there is the specific importance of the measures in clauses 10 and 12 to promote venture capital trusts and research and development relief for high-growth SMEs, which are especially important to the recovery for reasons that I will touch on in a moment. I emphasise the importance of high-growth companies as one who has come to the House after a 15-year career of supporting technology companies in the life sciences sector. I declare an interest in a number of small companies set out in the register.
In discussing the measures in the Bill, we need to remind ourselves of some hard facts. The deficit currently stands at £155 billion. It is the largest in our peacetime history. We have the largest deficit in the G20. This year alone, debt interest is set at £43 billion, and without the measures set out by the coalition Government and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to tackle the deficit, interest payments alone would have risen to £70 billion a year.
To prevent interest rates from spiking-the true risk of that inheritance-the Government are right to commit to reducing public spending and increasing private sector growth. Labour Members talk of growth, but seem to forget that it is the private sector that is the source of all growth and that pays for any growth in the public sector that we or they may promise. It is private-sector business people up and down the country who pay for our promises, and they now need our support.
We need to think about where the growth will come from, and I should like to suggest two key sources. First, the millions of SMEs up and down the country, frankly, want us to do something simple-get off their backs, stop taxing and regulating them and allow them to grow and flourish as they will. I also want to turn to a second source of growth, which is the three key specialist
sectors of which I have some experience. They are biomedicine, food science and environmental science, in which the country punches well above its weight; in many areas of those sectors it leads the world. As the world's population rises inexorably, they will become enormous sectors of growth across the world.
High-growth companies in those sectors have the potential to lead our recovery and lead this country back into positions of world leadership, provided that we support them properly. High-growth SMEs in the sectors have very special financing needs. Unlike smaller, high-street SMEs, which are struggling so hard, they are not, typically, dependent on the banks. They tend to be dependent on entrepreneurs, on founders-often scientists or people around universities or research institutes, who are then backed up by angel investors who put their expertise and hard-earned money to good use, by venture capital trusts and by corporate venture investors. We need to recognise the importance of that very specific financing food chain and encourage it. I therefore warmly welcome the measures in clauses 10 and 12 on tax relief for research funding and SMEs and for encouraging venture capital trusts. More widely, I welcome the coalition Government's measures to reduce corporation tax and to relieve entrepreneurs on capital gains tax.
Those are vital measures in a serious Government programme to tackle the deficit. It would be nice to hear from Labour Members what they would do to tackle the deficit were they to be in power.
Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): As this is the third Finance Bill that we have debated in the House this year, one could say that Finance Bills are a bit like buses: you wait for one to come along and three arrive at once. Even though this is a dry and technical Bill, it does have some merits. My primary concern is the failure to put in place a plan for growth.
Throughout this debate, we must remember that economists cannot predict the future. History is littered with economic theories that have failed, and I am sure that everyone in this House would agree that only time will tell how the economy will pan out. However, we can deal only in facts. There is no doubt that the economy is at a very dangerous crossroads. In the past, economic recovery following a large-scale financial crisis has inevitably been slow. It is vitally important that we make the correct decisions now on growth, jobs, the deficit and public spending. Yes, dealing with the deficit is absolutely key to future economic policy, and there is no doubt that we must cut waste where it is found. That is not deficit denial; it is the truth.
I am deeply concerned about statements made by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that seem to imply that deficit reduction is the beginning and the end of economic recovery. To me, it is vitally important that we have a credible and medium-term plan to reduce the deficit based on a careful balance between employment, spending and taxation-but only once growth is fully secured and over a longer period than the Government are currently planning. Simply put, hitting growth will make it more difficult to pay down the deficit because it means less revenue for the Exchequer. That is not deficit denial; it is just plain common sense.
We face fundamental questions. Is it right to be cutting millions of pounds from public services and taking millions of pounds out of family budgets this financial year and the next? What will that do to jobs and growth? Ultimately, what will it mean for the deficit? There seems to be a growing consensus in the House today that says that the deficit is the only issue that matters in economic policy, that the measures to reduce it are unavoidable, and that there is no alternative. Adopting the consensus view may be the easy and safe thing to do, but it does not make one right or credible. We did that in the '30s and were faced with the great depression. The leader of my party, Ramsay McDonald, fell out with his parliamentary party over cuts, and we saw what happened then.
Of course, the impact of immediate cuts to public spending on jobs and the recession has not yet fed through. Even though polls tell us that the public support deficit reduction when they are told that it will come from cutting waste in public spending, I wonder how they will view it when a local hospital is not built or a school is in desperate need of repair and there is no money to pay for it.
To attempt to repair the damage of such an event and return the national debt to its previous levels in just a few years is not only incredibly dangerously in the eyes of financial markets but places an intolerable burden on current users of public services. Even halving the deficit, as Labour Members propose, would represent comfortably the biggest and fastest cut in the deficit since the period after the second world war, but without the peace dividend to fund it.
By far the biggest influence on deficit reduction and the balance between taxation and spending is economic growth and the number of taxpayers in jobs paying their fair share. That is why the priority must be growth and jobs. It disappoints me that the Government have seen fit to cancel support for industries of the future such as the games industry. The Labour Government set out plans to support the industry in March, the new Government axed them in June, and the result was job losses in Scotland in August. That is what happens when a Government cut at any cost. The industry sustains thousands of highly skilled jobs that we simply cannot risk losing if we are to secure economic recovery and protect jobs. The industry, which contributed £1 billion to the UK economy last year, is competing with significant incentives from countries such as Canada, which are trying to entice companies to relocate their jobs. To me, cutting support for industry and highly skilled jobs is wrong at this time. I believe that the Government should urgently rethink that decision.
The UK's creative industries will be essential to rebalancing our economy away from dependence on financial services. The Government's decisions do not seem well thought out, and the video games industry has issued warnings about the long-term implications. The Association for Interactive Entertainment has already said that, with the absence of tax breaks, it is essential that the Government work with the industry to address the skills gap and better access to research and development initiatives. It is therefore of the utmost importance that an assessment of the impact on the creative industries is made. Perhaps most worrying, the scrapping of tax
relief, which puts the future of the computer games industry at risk, took place without industry consultation or discussion.
Many hon. Members have mentioned regional development agencies and their benefit to the economy. They, too, were scrapped without consulting business. That sets a dangerous precedent, and I urge the Government to think carefully about formulating policy in that way in future.
I have tried to keep my comments brief because other people want to speak, but now is the time for a careful and considered discussion of reforming tax and benefits in this country. I hope that we can do that through the Bill. Although I am happy about elements of it, I trust that the Government and the Opposition will now engage in that discussion.
Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): Historically, it has been argued that the secrecy surrounding Budget measures has hindered proper scrutiny, especially as Parliament has but little time to consider their broader implications. Those implications have not always been positive for the Government of the day. Indeed, had a previous Chancellor not guarded his Budget measures so jealously, his blushes might have been spared over the abolition of the 10p tax rate. I remember that time well-in Portsmouth, the average wage was £18,500, and anyone earning below that and above £5,000 was absolutely clobbered. That is why I will never take lessons in fairness from those who now find themselves on the Opposition Benches.
The Government's publication of the measures in the Bill on 12 July is therefore a welcome departure from the norm, opening a consultation and inviting comment. That is an innovation in the interests of good and transparent government, and I hope that, in future consultations, a broad audience beyond the usual tax practitioners will let its views be known to Her Majesty's Treasury.
The many people in Portsmouth North who suffer from asbestos-related illnesses are part of that broader audience. The proposals in clause 31 to facilitate compensation payments to those people are a proper response to the tax liability to which many well-intentioned trusts have found themselves exposed.
Asbestos-related industrial diseases are sadly a common occurrence in all our constituencies. The long period from exposure to presentation of symptoms, as well as lack of awareness, means that we will see new cases for decades to come. Indeed, in the next 10 years, the number of cases emerging each year will peak at about 2,500. As a dockyard city, Portsmouth can expect to contribute disproportionately to that number.
Currently, the trusts established to pay compensation to asbestos illness sufferers can be liable for inheritance tax, capital gains tax and income tax on their assets. Clause 31 will introduce a retrospective exemption for trusts established between 6 April 2006 and 23 March this year. That will mean more money going to victims, and will be very welcome in Portsmouth. It will be a relief to sufferers from asbestosis, cancer and even relatively benign conditions such as pleural plaques, which can nevertheless be a precursor of more serious complaints. The extra resource is much needed, as it will
also help meet the cost of care. Often, only 35% of the cost of that care-particularly hospice care-is met by the NHS. The provision happily complements the High Court ruling in August this year, which asserted that insurers' compensation should be used for the care that victims have needed. I am encouraged that the unwitting exposure to tax liability of an essentially charitable endeavour is to be put right, and that the problem can be avoided in the future if new trusts consult fully the Charity Commission and HMRC.
It is a happy coincidence that the launch of the consultation period on Finance Bills comes with a Bill that offers so many positive measures. In addition to clause 31, I welcome the amendment to collection procedures for income tax for individuals and the harmonisation of administration regimes for different taxes-a further advance towards simplification and transparency. We must all recognise the exasperation that many individuals and businesses in our constituencies have felt in their dealings with HMRC, and measures to ensure that taxation is fair, straightforward and transparent are always to be applauded. However, I hope that the Economic Secretary will dwell on clauses 26 and 27 about the failure to make returns and late payments. Given HMRC's track record, I seek assurance that those measures will not over-burden taxpayers or impose disproportionate penalties. I am especially anxious that the size of fixed penalties for small businesses be given careful consideration.
I also applaud first-year allowances for zero-emission goods vehicles, a genuine incentive for logistic firms to pursue a green agenda and a sign of the Government's determination to reward green behaviour.
It is also worth noting what the Bill omits. The long period of consultation has afforded us adequate time to enjoy the absence of some measures favoured by the last Government. Happily, we can pass this Bill without unfairly impinging on the landline user or the cider drinker.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) on a speech that was excellently delivered and every word of which I agreed with. It was a fine maiden speech and a pleasure to listen to.
I also welcome the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) to his new position. His speeches are in a somewhat different category, in that I always enjoy them but never agree with them. It is nevertheless a pleasure to see him in his place as his contributions in earlier debates were all listened to with bated breath, not least as we waited to intervene on some telling point.
This is a good and worthy Bill that is, perhaps, typical of the workmanlike approach that the coalition Government are taking to the difficult matters at hand to ensure that government is done fairly, justly and properly. In that context, it is interesting to look at the issue that was raised by the shadow Chief Secretary about the morality of taxation and whether it is moral, in one sense or another, to avoid taxation. We should be careful about eliding "avoid" and "evade". The two are clearly different things, and this Bill exemplifies why that is so.
The Bill will relieve the taxpayer of burdens that Parliament probably never intended to place on them. For example, did we really want to have a special taxation for merchant seamen who are within the European economic area, as against those who are British subjects? Or was it an accidental result of historical legislation that meant that EEA citizens were caught in a way that the British subjects were not? As it happens, it is right and proper that Parliament should legislate to take people out of a tax that is misplaced, and it is equally right and proper that Parliament should legislate when it wants to bring people into a tax that it has not legislated for in the past.
The famous exponent of this was, of course, Lord Tomlin. In 1936, in a case brought by the Inland Revenue commissioners against the Duke of Westminster, Lord Tomlin said:
"Every man is entitled if he can to arrange his affairs so that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be. If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure that result, then, however unappreciative the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax".
That is why it is so important that we have these detailed pieces of legislation coming through, because when we look at the length of a cigarette, which is dealt with in clause 23, and whether it should be 3 inches or 4 inches-the measurements are all in centimetres, but being British, I shall stick to inches-and therefore be taxed differently, is that an issue of great, high morals, that should be referred to the College of Cardinals for debate, to decide which is one and which is the other? Or is it, in fact, a detailed point of law that is quite rightly passed by this House, so that taxpayers will know exactly where they stand? If we take an aircraft that weighs more than 8 tonnes-I shall not convert that into hundredweight, but I am sure that some will want to-should it be specially subject to value added tax, or should it not? Again, it seems quite clear to me that that is an appropriate matter for detailed legislation. The taxpayer who follows the letter of the law is never doing anything either wrong or immoral, and people who seek to try to confuse the two at seaside party conference are making a great error and doing a great unfairness to the British subject who is doing his best in an immensely complex area.
There is one other thing from this Bill that I would like to note, which is that clauses 5, 6, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23 are, in whole or in part, requirements of the European Union. I mention that so that this House notes that we are perhaps not quite as free as we think we are to set our own tax rates, and that there is creeping Europeanisation. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) is in his place. He is, in his port, at the forefront of our protection from creeping Europeanisation coming across our shores-this creeping Europeanisation that makes up almost a third of the Bill.
Charlie Elphicke: I thank my hon. Friend for his generous comments about our desire to buy our port. As far as Europe is concerned, does he not agree that it would be better if we were more masters and captains in the ships of our national destiny?
That is put in an appropriately Nelsonian way. Of course we should sail the ship of state independently. It is important that so much of our
domestic law is, in fact, coming from Europe, including our tax law, because that is the one thing that many people thought was broadly exempt from the interference of-
Ms Louise Bagshawe (Corby) (Con) rose-
Jacob Rees-Mogg: It would be a great privilege to give way to my hon. Friend.
Ms Bagshawe: My hon. Friend is making a typically eloquent and masterful speech. Does he agree that he has done the House a great service in listing those clauses of the Bill that are subject to European regulation? Surely at the very least we owe our electorates such transparency on the issue, so that they should be informed as to which decisions are those of our Government and which are being handed down from Brussels.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: My hon. Friend has put it absolutely correctly and wisely: people need to know what is going on. "Truth is great and it will prevail" is, I believe, a motto of some.
Let me draw my remarks to a conclusion. I praise the Government. I think that they are right. They are putting forward serious-minded, proper legislation-detailed, pernickety, perhaps even dull-but it is rightly the duty of this Parliament to pass such laws, albeit with the caveat that we want our laws to be our laws, and not an adjunct to the European Union.
David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I think the phrase is, "Follow that." What an amazing tour de force. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) on his great remarks. I should like also to congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on his elevation and my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) on a wonderful maiden speech. He represents a great part of the world, and I am sure that the people there will be well satisfied that he represents them well.
As has been discussed, the main purpose of the Bill is to enact a series of technical tax measures inherited from the previous Government. It is a wide-ranging Bill, and it is part of a package of measures that this Government are having to take to tackle the economic crisis. The first Finance Bill, this Bill and the comprehensive spending review will each assist us to address the economic challenges facing our country.
I shall begin by focusing on the clauses relating to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. It is important that the necessary improvements be made to help income tax to be more effectively deducted at source, as set out in clause 8. We need to support HMRC in doing a better job of collecting the taxes that are owed. That is a critically important job, given the state of our public finances. That said, however, it is not just the legislation that needs to be updated. It is clear that HMRC's senior management team has more work to do, given the recent huge problems with PAYE.
The Treasury Committee held a meeting in September to review HMRC's operation of the PAYE system. Like other members of the Committee, I had the chance to probe the issues surrounding the new computer system,
and the announcement that 1.4 million taxpayers would be receiving letters informing them that they had underpaid their taxes. The hearing also highlighted the much broader issue of HMRC's mind-boggling backlog of 18 million open cases of overpayment and underpayment in previous years. Dealing with that must be a major priority. The senior management team will simply have to improve its communication skills, enhance the so-called customer journey-which for too many has felt like a short trip down a dead end-and prove its new system's capability as it moves to full roll-out. Based on my postbag, and on conversations that I have had with HMRC staff in Macclesfield, I believe that much more work is required to improve taxpayer confidence in the organisation and to raise employee morale across its operations. I welcome the clauses in the Bill that will help HMRC to do its job, but these other challenges must be addressed to enable the Government to achieve the objectives that they have set out in their tax measures.
The challenges facing HMRC would not be so huge or so critical if the public finances were not in such a mess, however. That is why it is important to examine the context in which the Bill is before the House. This country's record deficit has repeatedly been highlighted in the debate. It is not the product of a mythical global economic crisis. Even before the credit crunch, there was clear evidence that spending and the burden of tax were too high. The truth is that the previous Government were caught completely flat-footed as they faced the economic crisis. The scale of the challenge has now been starkly set out, and it is time for the coalition Government to pay back Labour's debts.
It is against that backdrop that the Chancellor announced his emergency Budget, which included a clear fiscal consolidation plan that placed a priority on lowering spending, combined with tax measures to reduce the deficit and to reform the tax system. Clearly, this Bill has a role to play in that regard. Strong medicine is needed, and it must be taken in the months and years ahead. That is what the British public expect; they recognise that it must happen. The detail will be spelled out in the comprehensive spending review in a few days' time. Radical welfare reform must be an essential part of the plans, and tough decisions on tax have also been made, with VAT having to be increased to 20% in January.
All that is necessary to get the public finances back under control and to get through the economic crisis, but we need to go further and create the conditions for sustainable economic growth that must be based on an expanding private sector. Colleagues have mentioned that in their speeches today. Growth comes from the private sector, not the public sector, and restoring national competitiveness must be a priority. It will be critical to give greater confidence to small and medium-sized enterprises, which form the backbone of our economy and are the engine of job creation. That is why I am pleased to support the Bill, as clause 13 sets out help for SMEs with tax relief for research and development.
It is good that the Chancellor is also taking forward other critical measures, including scrapping Labour's tax on jobs, and reducing corporation tax year on year for four years, down to just 24% in 2014. It is good to see that Britain is definitely open for business once again, as it should be. All that must be underpinned by
a change in direction in economic policy making. This is about asking the right questions, and about taking a new approach to getting the best possible answers.
Over the past 13 years, the previous Government and many in the media were simply asking the wrong questions. They wanted to know, "How much can we spend on this, and what steps are you taking to protect spending on that?" No one asked whether we could afford a particular policy, or how much it would increase the burden on taxation. Coming from the world of business, I find it obvious that a different question must be asked by most companies in competitive marketplaces day in, day out. The way in which it is asked may vary from business to business, but the substance of the question remains the same: "How can we give our customers more for less?"
That is not a question that businesses are ashamed to ask. It lies at the heart of how they compete and how they provide worthwhile work for their colleagues: it is ingrained in their culture. However, although some in the public sector have sought to take the question seriously, it has not been heard above the demands to spend, spend, spend that have come from Opposition Members. It is a tragedy that it has taken an economic crisis of this scale to enable it to be heard.
I am pleased that the right questions are being asked now, and that legislation such as this will help to address the challenges that we face. Behind the questions, however, there must be a new approach if we are to obtain the answers. Faced with big challenges following the general election, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats made a bold decision to work in coalition. That is not something for which I hoped at the time of the election, but it means that there must be give as well as take. It means that both parties must get around the table, and the evidence so far suggests that it has led to radical and bold solutions as both parties seek to work in the national interest.
I believe that, given the tough challenges that lie ahead, that approach will have wider applications. I believe that it will define new, creative ways of working between Government Departments, between businesses and Government, and between local councils and community groups. It is about people working together in new ways in the interests of their country and, indeed, their communities in this most difficult of times. We see it working in Macclesfield as residents, community groups, local businesses and Cheshire East council work together, strengthen the local economy and revitalise the town centre. Our new treacle market is a tremendous success, and I recommend it to the House. It is held on the last Sunday of every month, and I suggest that anyone interested come along.
At least the Bill sets out business initiated by the previous Government that needed to be progressed, but it is sad to note that not much more was worth progressing, and that so much was left undone. A complete mess was left for the present Government to clear up, and today's evidence suggests that the Labour party, not notable for the huge number of its Members present, has nothing much to add to the debate. Faced with such challenges, unlike the coalition Government, they have chosen denial-or, as today's attendance suggests, avoidance-rather than a constructive dialogue.
I am no psychoanalyst, but I understand-and I am sure that Members will be interested to hear this-that denial is a defence mechanism used by a person who is
faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept. Such a person will insist that something is not true despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and will often behave in ways that others see as quite bizarre. We see such behaviour on a regular basis on the Opposition Benches. To make matters worse, the Opposition are in double denial. They cannot see the scale of the crisis, and they are not willing to accept that they are responsible for it.
We might have hoped that things would improve with the birth of new-generation Labour-although that too is not obvious from today's debate-but we have heard nothing to support that hope today. For once I agree with Alastair Campbell, who said over the weekend that what Labour needed was a proper economic narrative. We on the Government side of the House have been saying that for a long time, and I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) joined us this afternoon.
I support the Bill, and support the work that the Government are doing in tackling the deficit. Difficult challenges and uncomfortable decisions lie ahead, but the right questions are finally being asked, and the Government are making important progress in the most difficult of circumstances.
Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) on his excellent maiden speech. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on his elevation. He is a triumph of quality over quantity tonight. It is either that or he needs to change his Lynx body spray.
I am pleased to speak in support of the Bill, an agglomeration of 31 yawn-inducing technical tax measures to some, but to me another item crossed off the most important "to do list" of this Parliament, tackling the crippling millstone of public debt inherited from the last Labour Government. I would like to do three things: to address some specific clauses; to review the need for presenting the Bill in this slightly unusual form; and to provide some context for the measure.
There are 33 clauses to be put on the statute book. In-I think-all cases, those measures were inherited from the previous Labour Government; there are almost no changes from our side of the House. All are worthy of review, but three are particularly relevant. The first is on the level of support provided to carers. Almost every week in surgeries around my constituency I hear about carers and the particular burdens put on adult carers. We heard just this morning that 25% of women in their 50s-not so far off for some of us Members-will be carers while also facing the challenges of continuing to be supportive parents for their teenage children. It is imperative that the measures that we put in place to relieve carers of unnecessary tax are carried through handsomely.
I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) about the importance of the first-year allowances for zero-emission goods vehicles-100% of first-year allowances will be deductible from April, continuing until April 2015. That demonstrates our Government's commitment to supporting incredibly valuable legislation that helps us in the overall attempt to "green up" the British economy.
The Bill's measures, alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), on supporting enterprise and venture capital investment are critical to our plans to open Britain for business, although as part of that process we must continue to ensure that the banks actually lend. That matter is not for debate tonight, but we must return to it again and again as we proceed through the Parliament.
I turn to the odd split of Finance Bills, for which the Government have come under mild criticism. We had Finance Bill No. 1, which enacted a series of emergency Budget measures and now we have No. 2, which has been described as the mopping up of technical tax measures. May I review what was happening at the time of the election, and the need for emergency Budget measures? Our triple A credit rating was under threat, 10-year interest rates were spiking up at over 4% and starting to approach the interest rates of Italy, which has, I believe, had 62 Governments since the second world war. The credit default swap rating-I know that this all sounds like bankers' speak but it materially impacts on the level at which we can borrow-which is the measure of potential British default on our debts, was getting up to 90 basis points, up there with Portugal and Spain, which could not even dream of a triple A credit rating. A fire was burning in the heart of the British economy and the Labour Government had no plans to put it out. We did. The emergency Budget on 22 June, introduced within the 50-day limit that we set ourselves, restored confidence both internationally and domestically in the British economy.
Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that, because of that emergency Budget, we are still able, although we are dealing with a massive deficit and borrowing £500 million a day, to borrow at half the rate of Ireland?
Claire Perry: As always, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point based on his substantial experience in the business world. During that process, we showed a clear commitment to doing the right thing for the British economy. We did not do things to maximise political headlines, of which the previous Government were guilty on an almost weekly basis.
What is the result of taking those bold actions? Let us talk numbers. The risk premium on the British economy has dropped by 30% since the election. Long-term interest rates-the 10-year interest rates-have dropped by more than 1%, meaning a 25% reduction in the cost of borrowing. These are not arcane measures thought up by a load of greedy bankers; they materially flow through to the borrowing costs of our constituents, both for mortgage and small business borrowers. The measures mean real growth for the British economy.
Why did we not consider tax measures in the first Finance Bill of this Parliament? The point made earlier on transparency and consultation is a valuable one. We said that we will be a Government who are far more transparent and that we will allow time for consultation.
I am listening with interest to the hon. Lady. She said that the Government did not introduce tax measures, but what about the rise in VAT, which is a
regressive tax? The introduction of a more progressive tax-for example, a tax on the rich or on big business-might have been more acceptable, but a regressive tax will deflate the economy by taking money out of the pockets of ordinary people, who spend most.
Claire Perry: I would debate regressive and progressive taxation and the question of income or expenditure with the hon. Gentleman, but I would like to make a little progress, if he will allow me, and focus specifically on the technical measures in the Bill.
The measures were published on 12 July, and I believe that we have had a number of responses to them, and we now feel that we have had adequate consultation to proceed. The House feels that we can cope with the split between two Finance Bills, but I would like Ministers to reassure us that we will revert to one Finance Bill as soon as possible, as the situation normalises. In that way, the whole finance package can be given proper scrutiny, and we will not have the kind of piecemeal debate that we are having today.
Finally, let me give some context to the measures. We have heard this before, but I make no apologies for saying it again: we have a record deficit. That is not the result of a financial shock that emerged like the creature from the swamp from America in 2007, but the result of a Government who spent more than they earned in taxes every year from 2002. I have listened with great interest to the representations made by Labour Members. They say, "We were investing. We weren't 'spending'; we were building schools and hospitals." They were building schools and hospitals, but they were borrowing money to do so. In the process, they put the bill on future generations of taxpayers. They talk about being progressive, but that is not a progressive thing to do with the British economy.
The previous Government bequeathed us interest costs of £120 million a day. That is paid largely to foreign Governments, so that they can build their schools and hospitals off the tax pounds that we collect from our taxpayers. There is nothing progressive about that.
What do we get when we discuss the measures? Do we get the intelligent, grown-up debate that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), the shadow Chief Secretary, asked for? We certainly do not get intelligent, grown-up debate on how to cut the deficit from the few Labour Members in the Chamber. With a very few honourable exceptions, we get opposition to everything. That was amply demonstrated during today's statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. We now have the extraordinary situation of Labour Members, in opposing everything, wanting to tax the poorest families in this country to pay £1 billion in child credit to the richest 15% of families. I suggest that, by opposing everything, Labour Member get themselves into some extraordinary technical tangles.
Conservatives want to talk about deficit reduction, but Labour Members put up the ideological barricades, saying, "You're bad Tory cutters. You're bad Lib Dem ideologues." Behind the sound and fury, one question remains unanswered: what would Labour Members cut? Where would their £44 billion-worth of spending cuts fall? If they oppose everything in our deficit-reduction plans-the plans are supported by the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the CBI, the Bank of England, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and everyone
but Labour's Front-Bench team-they weaken their status as a viable Opposition.
I shall finish if I may by quoting Labour's new shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson). No, this is not about his need for an economics primer; it relates to what he has said about the British people. He said:
"I think the reason why they took to the coalition is they thought, well, here's someone rolling their sleeves up and getting down to the job."
We are getting on with the job. The measures in this Bill are part of that, and I urge every hon. Member here tonight to vote for the Bill, as I shall be in the not-too- distant future.
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), who spoke in the most heartfelt way about his heartbreakingly lovely and beautiful constituency and in the most thoughtful and considered way about the impact of regulation on smaller businesses. I also wish to congratulate the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury on her elevation and the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on returning to the Front Bench, even if it is not the Front Bench that he would have preferred to be on-no doubt he is a patient man who will wait to have another go in due course.
This Budget, with this Finance Bill, is an essential piece of legislation. We have a country that is all but bust; its budget deficit is more than £150 billion and we face a structural deficit of £109 billion, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility. What does that tell us? It tells us that two thirds of the current extra borrowing each year has nothing to do with the recession and the global financial crisis, and has everything to do with the economic incompetence of the previous Government. The Leader of the Opposition urges that instead of adopting a fiscal position of raising taxes by one third and cutting spending by two thirds, we should make it 50:50. My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) has calculated that that would raise people's taxes by another £1,300. Such a massive bombshell would not be constructive in this difficult fiscal environment. The Government have taken difficult decisions on taxes, but the further tax rises that the Opposition urge on us are not at all responsible or helpful.
It is therefore right that the coalition is taking the economically responsible and sensible position to step right and stabilise our country and its finances, but we need to have growth and a growth agenda. It is helpful that corporation tax is being reduced to 24% over the next few years, and I hope that in time the Government will be able to go further and bring it down to about 19%. I hope that they will give serious and substantial consideration to a holding company regime such as exists in places such as the Netherlands and Luxembourg, so that the UK becomes a holding company international headquarters of the European time zone. The UK and London, rather than the continent itself, would thus become the jumping off point for Americans investing in Europe, which would provide a massive fiscal stimulus to the UK economy and would make it the financial headquarters centre and the international business centre
of the European time zone. We should be very alive to the competitive fight that we have with our European friends, and seek to maximise our position and that of London as the international financial and business centre of this time zone.
We may get a fiscal bounce out of encouraging large businesses to move to this country, set up here and stay here-I note that WPP and Hiscox have left and moved overseas, as have others-but if we want long-term sustainable development and growth, and more jobs and money over the longer term, we need to consider smaller business, because it has a stronger sense of growth over the long term and it supplies the entrepreneurial flair that creates more jobs and money.
Kelvin Hopkins: I entirely accept the need to sustain small businesses, but small businesses live off two things: first, big businesses, which make orders for them; and, secondly, demand in the economy, as we go for meals out, get building alterations done to our homes and so on. If people are not spending because they are frightened of losing their jobs and having their pensions and benefits cut, that damages small businesses at least as much as it does big businesses.
Charlie Elphicke: I would agree with the hon. Gentleman that confidence plays a massive role in our economy-and nowhere more so than with our smaller businesses. The confidence that we have seen since the election seems to be feeding through to the growth figures, which seem to suggest that we are coming out of the recession faster than anyone thought we would. Personally, I think we should be more positive about the prospects for the economy and the prospects for faster growth over the medium term, given the nature of the stabilisation and the confidence that the coalition Government have provided to the country. However, that does not mean that there is not more we can do for small businesses. We can and must, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) and others have said, have more liquidity for the small business sector. It has been too locked up in banks preparing their balance sheets-we need more lending.
Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that a reduction in corporation tax is a way to encourage more small businesses and to keep big business in the United Kingdom, and that it will help the overall long-term growth of our economy?
Charlie Elphicke: Absolutely, yes. The previous Government were planning to increase corporation tax on smaller businesses and to do nothing for larger businesses. The reduction in corporation tax that we are seeing across the board is an incredibly positive move by the coalition Government that will help to create more jobs and money and help to encourage businesses-international businesses in particular-to set up in the UK.
We need more liquidity for smaller businesses, but we also need tax reform for smaller businesses. Earlier today, I met the Quoted Companies Alliance, which represents smaller quoted companies. It put to me the suggestion that we should perhaps think harder about the enterprise investment scheme and venture capital trust regimes. They are limited at about 50 employees, but EU state aid approval would be allowable for fewer than 250 employees under the EU SME definition. I hope that Ministers will consider that in due course and
in further Finance Bills. There is a negative effect on businesses because they dare not grow over 50 employees. That is quite important.
The QCA says that the connected company or connected person regime should be considered, because business angels could be effective and useful directors and advisers to those businesses. The alliance also says that it would be better to have lighter-touch regulation. It would concede the income tax relief if it would help to keep the capital gains tax relief and increase the limits and thresholds available in the EIS and VCT regimes. I hope that Ministers will consider that and will consider the technical detail that will help to improve things for the smaller business sector.
On CGT, the alliance welcomes the entrepreneurs' relief-it says that that is great-but asks why it lasts for only 12 months. Does that not encourage speculators? Should it not be for three or four years, to encourage long-term investment? Should it be restricted just to those who have 5% and are employees or should it perhaps involve those who have 5% or who are employees, to widen the investment base for smaller businesses that benefit from entrepreneurs' relief? I hope that Ministers will also consider reinvestment relief when entrepreneurs come up with wonderful ideas, sell their businesses and reinvest. Perhaps they should be encouraged to do so with a wider base of reinvestment relief, to lock in more capital and investment, which will create more jobs and money over the longer term. I recognise that these are ideas to be developed in further Finance Bills, but I hope that Ministers and the Government will give them due consideration as time passes.
The other question the alliance raises is why we do not allow AIM shares to be put into individual savings accounts. That seems to make little sense. The AIM market has changed massively since the late '90s and it would perhaps be constructive to allow AIM company shares to be in ISAs so as to widen the investment pool and widen the availability of capital to businesses that are typically smaller in nature and faster growing.
Finally, although the London stock exchange has said for a long time that we should have got rid of the stamp duty reserve tax, which is difficult to afford in the current circumstances, the QCA asks the interesting question: what would happen if we allowed getting rid of SDRT outside the FTSE 350 for smaller companies, to help to make their shares more liquid? Trading volumes would be lower and it might be more affordable. I hope that that is something to which Ministers will give due consideration and thought in future Finance Bills.
The most important thing for our country and our countrymen is to have more jobs and more money. I hope that over time we will develop a further growth agenda and deepen the one that we have already put forward, so that we can have faster structural trend growth and the UK can become the envy of not just our friends in the European Union but the world as a whole.
Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op):
As the astute observer may have noticed by now, the Bill is a largely inherited set of technical measures, with the
general election having interrupted the conventional timetable and truncated the previous Administration's Bill, which would have introduced many of the same provisions. No matter; we have had a successful and thorough debate. The hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) noted, I think sarcastically, that he was looking forward to the fun and delights of Committee, but we have covered the Bill's territory well.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) for his very good-quality maiden speech. He made the case for the small business community in his constituency strongly and passionately. It is a fine and beautiful constituency, and I was born near or within it at Airedale hospital, so it has a special place in my heart for that reason if for no other.
The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who is no longer in his place, made a series of interesting observations about long cigarettes, the weight of aircraft and the creeping Europeanisation of the world in general, and I look forward to his pearls of wisdom in Committee. The hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) rightly noted the measures in clause 14 on film tax credit arrangements, and the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) talked eloquently about the important changes in clause 31 affecting asbestos compensation settlements.
I agreed very much with the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry)-that may come as a shock to her-about the provisions for shared lives carers. Being a carer is a big commitment and requires a lot of patience, understanding and hard work, but it offers adults who need support owing to their health or disability a valuable opportunity to live with people who can give them the help that they need, share their hobbies and interests and so on. We, too, therefore welcome the simplification of the tax treatment of foster carers and shared lives carers so that their costs and expenses are recognised more fairly in the tax system.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth North mentioned the clauses on penalties for failures to make tax returns and pay taxes. We clearly need a regime that is tough on evasion and that incentivises prompt payment, but we also need to ensure fairness in the system so that entirely innocent people and companies are not caught in an unfair penalty cycle. As the Institute of Chartered Accountants has noted, we need to ensure that we monitor that regime carefully, especially for very small businesses that do not necessarily have in-house accountants or bookkeepers.
A number of other measures were mentioned in the debate. The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) talked about the safeguards for investors in venture capital schemes and the insertion in the rules of a financial health requirement, to prevent tax reliefs from falling into "firms in difficulty". That raises a number of questions that we will want to explore further in Committee.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) rightly highlighted the clause about the deduction of income tax at source. It is a positive thing that there will be a new online mechanism for customers to lodge the fact that they are returning their income tax deductions, but that prompts the question of how HMRC enables access for customers through downloadable information
and whether customers can identify their tax office correctly. Again, we will want to pursue those points in Committee.
Very few Members noted the Bill's provisions on the automatic enrolment of employees in pension schemes from 2012, which are technical measures to facilitate the new pension scheme arrangements. That national employment savings trust is incredibly important-something that the previous Government rightly put in place for all workers between the age of 22 and retirement age earning more than £5,000 a year, unless they were already in a pension scheme. I particularly want to press the Minister on that matter, because I understand that the consultation process said that by 30 September we would know the Government's views on that automatic enrolment arrangement. We have passed that point, and I do not think that we have had any information on the issue.
It is a curious and fragmented process that we have entered into with this chopping and changing between Finance Bills. The cynic in me detects the possibility of some highly tactical games being played by Treasury Ministers. Perhaps I am wrong, but their approach to finance legislation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) suggested earlier, seemed to create a toxic, bad Bill-perhaps the one that was pushed through before the summer recess, possibly without the Liberal Democrats quite noticing how bad it was. Other toxic, bad Bills are to come in due course, such as those on scrapping the health in pregnancy grant, the savings gateway and the child trust fund arrangements. It is interesting to see how Ministers are packaging up these measures. Machiavelli may have some observations on that particular tactical game.
As my hon. Friend also mentioned in her opening speech, a number of measures are conspicuous by their absence from the Bill. My hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) and for Islwyn (Chris Evans) mentioned the video games tax relief arrangements for that particular industry, which many firms in my Nottingham constituency have also been urging and expecting. They were disappointed when the Government withdrew them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) referred to the investment allowances to help businesses to grow and ensure that they invest in plant, infrastructure and capacity to enable them to prosper. I might have disagreed with him slightly in his comments on VAT, but he made a number of points that are worth deeper thought and observation.
The context of the Bill says everything. Although the measure is wide ranging, it is absolutely a missed opportunity-perhaps the calm before the storm of the spending review. We know that many failings arise from the legislation, basically because of those aspects that are not in it. Insufficient steps are being taken to clamp down on tax evasion, and serious doubts are now growing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) mentioned, about the capabilities of a depleted HMRC, should its budget be unfairly constrained.
The Bill is particularly a missed opportunity for legislation to promote growth and generate revenues, and that is what it will be remembered for. We should look at the growth deniers on the other side of the House. My hon. Friends the Members for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) and for
Islwyn all mentioned TINA-there is no alternative, as the former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, described it-and that notion has infected those on the Government Benches. They are doing a good job in sticking to their message and trying to ram their points home, but it is becoming a little obvious that the script is getting somewhat old.
I was impressed in particular by the comments of the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds)-the ideology that he has formulated of the expansionary fiscal consolidation strategy and the theory that he has announced that cuts can stimulate economic activity. His comments were mirrored to a certain extent by those of the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman). We need to hear much more from the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness on that strategy. It is clear to me that the Conservative party is focusing its energies exclusively on this ideological crusade in cutting investment, rather than looking equally at the other side of the balance sheet-rebuilding revenues-which surely must be attended to.
Everybody knows that the deficit position was largely caused by reduced revenues following the credit crunch and the banking crisis, and growth is the best antidote to that. It is quite clear also that the Government see public services and economic regeneration as somehow negative aspects-a glass half empty-whereas Labour Members see growth, public services and investment in infrastructure as a glass half full and an opportunity to expand. Through that virtuous cycle, we will repair the public sector balance sheet.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East asked whether we wanted to burden future generations with a legacy of high unemployment and low growth, and that is absolutely the right question to pose to Government Members.
It is important to look at the wider context in which the Bill was presented, but we can already see, as the news develops, that growth is fragile and that confidence is wobbling. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey mentioned a report in The Times that showed that finance directors' confidence is at its lowest level in 18 months, and 34% of those surveyed in a Deloitte poll said that they expected the economy to go into reverse. We sincerely hope that that does not happen. The hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) said that confidence is a critical ingredient that plays a massive role in the economy, and it is a great shame that we can already see the steps taken by the Government eroding some of that confidence. That has its roots in the decisions made in the Budget before the recess.
The downgrading by the Office for Budget Responsibility of the forecast for 2011 from 2.6% to 2.3% suggests a £5 billion loss in receipts because of the smothering of economic activity. That is compounded by the many anti-growth policies pursued, and messages given, by the Government parties. Tonight, hon. Members have talked about regional development agencies being scrapped and the Sheffield Forgemasters loan not being granted.
There are a number of ways in which the economy is at risk. It is important that, throughout the passage of the Bill, we explore the Government's strategy and what more can be done to ensure that we pursue a pro-growth strategy. We might not divide the House tonight, but we put the Government on notice that we expect and need
stronger pro-growth measures and legislation in future. We will scrutinise the detail of the Bill closely in Committee. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Justine Greening): I welcome the new shadow Treasury team to their roles. Obviously, I have had experience of debating with the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), the new shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I look forward to continuing those debates, and to debating with the new members of the team.
We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I pay tribute to the maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), who follows in the footsteps of a fantastic predecessor. He described a constituency that I know, and he is right to say that it is absolutely beautiful. He is very lucky to represent it, and I am sure that he will do a great job in his new role.
Let me turn to the Finance (No. 2) Bill. Obviously, its clauses have a lower profile than many of the measures announced in the emergency Budget, but they are nevertheless important for the smooth running of the tax system. That is why the previous Government were also keen to see many of the measures put on to the statute book.
Let us be clear about why we are debating the Bill in the autumn, and not earlier in the year. As we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) and for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), and from many others, when the coalition Government came to power, we faced an economic challenge of an unprecedented scale. In fact, urgent action was needed, and we responded with the emergency Budget. The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), who responded to the debate, seem to have developed some form of amnesia when it comes to the content of the emergency Budget and why it was required. It is impossible to exaggerate the seriousness of the situation that we inherited, or the risks to Britain if we had continued on the course that they proposed. There were almost 2.5 million people unemployed; yet again, a Labour Government left office with unemployment higher than when they came in. We inherited the largest budget deficit in the G20, and a fiscal legacy that had us spending £4 for every £3 that we raised in taxation.
We had to take action to restore the credibility of the UK economy, to allow the recovery to take hold, and to ensure that future growth was sustainable and not driven by an ever-growing burden of debt. That is why we introduced a short Finance Bill in the summer-to maintain economic stability, calm market fears and put in place a credible plan to deal with the record deficit. That plan is supported by the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the CBI, the Bank of England and countless other organisations that clearly have a greater grasp of the deep dangers that face our economy than the Labour party does.
There was an opportunity today for the Opposition to start participating in the debate on the most important challenge facing our country-how to get our economy back on track. I was interested to hear whether they
have a plan, now that they have a new leader. The answer is that they do not. The debate touched briefly on the subject of tax avoidance, but the Opposition have developed a brand new form of tax avoidance. They try to avoid talking about tax and spend altogether or having any plan to deal with it.
Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): In my constituency over the past 13 years 17 new high schools and more than 50 new primary schools have been built. Does the hon. Lady condemn that investment?
Justine Greening: The hon. Gentleman should direct his question at his colleagues, who had planned the capital cuts that he no doubt hates so much. If he comes and looks at other schools, he will see that his Government left schools such as my own Elliott school in Putney in an appalling state. I do not think he has an answer to that.
We heard a number of contributions from Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Wallasey offered no alternative to the plan set out by the Government. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) spoke about scrapping the package that we presented in the emergency Budget to support business. We heard from the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who apparently welcomed the Bill and wanted investment, but was against the cuts in corporation tax that we introduced. We heard from the hon. Members for Islwyn (Chris Evans), for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson), for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), and for Bassetlaw (John Mann) who were all against taking action to sort out the economy. At least the hon. Member for Bassetlaw acknowledged that his party has a gaping chasm in its economic policy. Until the Opposition fill that, they will have no credibility.
John Mann: I hope the hon. Lady did not miss the other part of my contribution, which was intended to expose the gaping chasm in the logic and the economics of the Treasury proposals.
Justine Greening: I decided to pick out the piece in which the hon. Gentleman talked about his party, which he obviously supports. Our plans are all about tackling the deficit. Funding that debt will cost our economy £43 billion this year. That means that every taxpayer in Britain will pay almost £1,400 of income tax to service that debt interest. The hon. Gentleman might consider that a good use of taxpayers' money rather than spending it on front-line services. I do not. Unless we take the difficult but fair decisions that we are taking now to sort out the deficit, we will not be in a position to undertake sustainable funding of our public services again. That is why the measures that we are taking are so important.
Many of the clauses in the Bill were brought forward by the previous Government. We consulted stakeholders over the summer because we were keen to make sure that we have a more open and considered approach for our tax legislation than we have had in the past. Many respondents have been clear about how welcome that approach is. It has made the Bill more transparent, more robust and better focused. It was a pleasure to hear from the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) who, I believe, is a fellow chartered accountant and could therefore appreciate the care that has been taken with the Bill.
Let me pick up on some of the technical questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) and the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie). I am pleased that my hon. Friend welcomes the measure on REITs in the Bill. I will write to him on some of the more specific issues that he raised. He should recognise that the measure in the Bill is symptomatic of the fact that we see REITs as a positive vehicle, and we will see what we can do to support them further.
The hon. Member for Dundee East raised so many issues so quickly that I barely had time to scribble them all down. I hope we will return to many of them in Committee.
The other thing that foxed me was that the hon. Gentleman went in reverse order, starting at clause 25 and moving on to clauses 7 and 5. But, he asked some broad questions, and on the corporation tax and petroleum revenue tax changes he was right to say that the measures are about creating a more harmonised system. He raised many specific issues, and we can go into more detail about them, including clause 7, in Committee. On clause 5, he raised a number of good questions about guidance, and we are looking to revise that. We are talking to stakeholders and hearing about the issues that they want clarified; indeed, he mentioned some of them in his speech. His points were well made, and I look forward to continuing the debate in Committee.
There are further measures in the Bill to support the private sector and contribute to more balanced growth in the UK. We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton South (Mr Binley), for Dover, for Watford (Richard Harrington), for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) and for Macclesfield (David Rutley) about how important it is that our Government take steps to support business so that business in turn can create jobs. We must not forget that without the steps that we took in our emergency Budget, small companies would face a small companies corporation tax rise, not one that is going to fall, and a national insurance rise-the jobs tax. Instead, they can look forward to enjoying a reduction in national insurance liability, so we are taking the steps that we need to take.
Mr Binley: What will my hon. Friend do, therefore, to ensure that banks provide the money to generate the growth that small businesses will need to create if the Budget strategy is going to work?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I am sure that he is aware of how clause 5 ensures that state aid clearance of the enterprise investment scheme and venture capital trusts takes place. In 2007-08, the enterprise investment scheme supported investment of £7 billion in more than 15,000 companies, and we want to see that enhanced. We are cutting the small profits rate of corporation tax, and to follow up my hon. Friend's question, I note that the Government
plan to create a growth capital fund, which we think will provide a further £237 million of enterprise capital funds, so we are very conscious of the issues that he raises. We are in continuing discussions with the banking industry to ensure that credit flows to the companies that so badly need it-for the very reasons that he so eloquently set out in his contribution to the debate.
The Bill is not just about supporting business, although that is a key part of it. As my hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) and for Devizes (Claire Perry) pointed out, it includes measures that will support some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North, who made an excellent contribution on the measure-I think it is clause 31-to help trusts that have been set up to compensate asbestos victims. There are further measures in the Bill not only to support people who are shared lives carers and, indeed, carers more generally, but to support through the tax system those people who act as guardians or look after children under a residence order. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, who gave a fantastic speech, too, talked about those measures for carers. They are badly needed and will, I hope, have a good impact.
To wrap up, the Bill contains many necessary measures that will ease the burdens on business and help the most vulnerable in our society. Owing to the need for urgent action before the summer, there was simply no time to consider them when the Finance (No.2) Act 2010 went through the House. However, I know that many Members from all parts of the House will want to join me in Committee for more detailed scrutiny of the Bill's clauses.
This Bill, while unglamorous in comparison with its predecessors, is important. It represents clear progress, it is considered in its approach, and I commend it to the House.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63.)
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