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Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Good old Ted Heath.

Mr Hollobone: Indeed. Before the U-turn the burden of taxation on the British economy went down but then, as we know, it all started to go wrong, and from 1973 to 1975—three calendar years, in effect—those 21 days were reversed and taxation freedom day went back up to 2 June. One of the major reasons for that was the very high price inflation of that period. The Government of the day did not re-index all the taxation allowances and there was a huge fiscal drag effect, taking people into high rates of income tax.

Taxation freedom day did not change much until 1978. Between 1978 and 1982, it moved by 24 days, from 27 May to an all-time peak, 20 June, in 1982. In that period we had the rapid appreciation of sterling, particularly against the dollar, there was the doubling of VAT from 8% to 15% in Geoffrey Howe’s first Budget, a huge collapse in gross domestic product—not as sharp a fall as we are currently experiencing, but nevertheless a very dramatic slow-down in the economy—and another period of high inflation fuelled, in part, by a second big rise in oil and petrol prices. That meant that in 1982 the average British taxpayer had to work for 172 days, with all their income for those 172 days going, in effect, to Her Majesty’s Government.

There then followed quite a long period, from 1982 to 1996, just before the end of the Conservative Government, when taxation freedom day fell back by 25 days, from 20 June to 26 May. In 1997, when Tony Blair came in, taxation freedom day started to rise once again. Interestingly—I hope that this will convince the two Opposition Members present that I am trying to be as politically neutral as possible—taxation freedom day in 1997, when Labour took office, and in 2010, when Labour left office, fell on exactly the same day: 27 May. It rose in the middle of that period to 4 June, an increase of nine days, but in other years it fell by three days.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent Bill. Despite what he has just said, does taxation freedom day not generally fall earlier under long periods of Conservative government than under periods of Labour government?

Mr Hollobone: I am most grateful for that penetrating intervention from my hon. Friend, who serves his constituents with great enthusiasm and ability. Although I would like to think that there is an obvious correlation, my honest answer is that it might not be as strong as we would like it to be. That reflects the overall bad picture of all modern Governments settling a burden of taxation on the economy that is rather higher than he or I would like. Although brave attempts have been made to reduce that burden, particularly by Conservative Governments, they have not always been successful as problems have got in the way. For example, the oil price crisis in the early 1970s and the big increase in trade union militancy blew the Conservative Government of the day off course, which meant that they had to increase the burden of taxation in response. Likewise, in the first years of the Thatcher Government the burden of taxation increased sharply. As I have said, between 1979 and 1982 taxation freedom day moved from 30 May to 20 June, which was a sharp ratcheting up.

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Philip Davies: I commend my hon. Friend on introducing his Bill. I presume that his aim is to try to shame the Government into making taxation freedom day fall as early as possible each year, which is certainly the basis on which I support it. With that in mind, has he considered specifying a date beyond which no Government can allow taxation freedom day to fall, to ensure that we guard against excessive taxation?

Mr Hollobone: I am most grateful for that intervention from my hon. Friend, who is a legend not only in his constituency, but in this place, precisely because of that sort of contribution. I also take it as a bid to serve on the Bill Committee. I for one would welcome that as an amendment that would improve the Bill, because I know that one of the major roles he performs in this place is providing helpful ideas to Members and the Government on how legislation might be improved, and what he suggests is one of the best examples I have heard. Like me, he believes that the burden of taxation in this country generally is too high and would like to see it fall. However, Members need not share our views to support the Bill. It is possible to be an enthusiast for more taxation to provide more public services and still to support the Bill. The Bill would make the burden of taxation transparent to everyone.

Robert Halfon: I hesitate to correct my hon. Friend, but it is possible to have more public services without necessarily increasing taxation.

Mr Hollobone: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is what Her Majesty’s Government are currently trying to do.

Mr Nuttall: More for less.

Mr Hollobone: Indeed. We can have better public services that are less dependent on public subscription. By making the burden of taxation transparent, through this calendar mechanism, the arguments for the more efficient use of public resources can be strengthened by the simple idea of trying to make taxation freedom day fall earlier.

The Conservative party has supported the idea of taxation freedom day in the past, but I am disappointed to see that, in the handout from the Government machine, the Government are going to oppose the Bill today.

Mr Nuttall: No!

Philip Davies: Surely not!

Mr Hollobone: I know that my hon. Friends are shocked by that news, and I very much hope that I am mistaken. When our hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury rises to make her remarks, I hope that she will disabuse us of that notion, because in 2003 Lord Saatchi in the other place launched a Bill to make taxation freedom day a bank holiday. It was official Conservative party policy, supported at the time by the then shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Michael Howard, and a great deal of news was made about it.

I do not propose in my legislation to make taxation freedom day a bank holiday.

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Philip Davies: Why not?

Mr Hollobone: That is a very good question, and it may well be the subject of another amendment that my hon. Friend tables in Committee, because I for one support the idea of a bank holiday to celebrate taxation freedom day. I personally think that it should replace the May day bank holiday, which for most of my constituents and most people throughout the country is not an appropriate day for a public holiday. If it were replaced by taxation freedom day, that would be a very good thing, but that is not in the Bill.

Philip Davies: I commend that idea to my hon. Friend. It might encourage the Labour party to bring forward taxation freedom day each year so that it coincides with May day.

Mr Hollobone: That is a very good suggestion, and yet another reason for Opposition Members to support the Bill today.

My Bill does not propose that taxation freedom day be a bank holiday. What it does propose is that, basically, Her Majesty’s Government make official recognition of what taxation freedom day does. In the Taxation (Information) Bill, the Conservative party Bill that was launched in the other place in 2003, Lord Saatchi suggested the following mechanism for calculating how taxation freedom day should be arrived at. He said that taxation freedom day is

“determined by taking total tax revenue, including direct and indirect taxes, local taxes, capital taxes and national insurance contributions as a percentage of total income”,

and that it is

“calculated as general government tax revenue as a proportion of net national income”. —[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 July 2003; Vol. 651, c. 380.]

Net national income differs from the more familiar gross domestic product, or GDP, in two ways: first, net national income adds in net property and the entrepreneurial income of UK citizens from abroad; and secondly, it subtracts capital consumption. Net national income is therefore smaller than GDP, making the ratio of tax revenue to net national income larger than that to GDP.

I do not particularly mind what mechanism the Office for National Statistics uses for calculating taxation freedom day, because there are all sorts of suggestions about how it be done, but whatever mechanism is used, it ought to be clearly explained and consistent year on year, with lots of backdated calculations—perhaps even to the start of the 20th century, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North suggests—so that we can track consistently how taxation freedom day has moved around. There we have an official Conservative party suggestion from 2003, however, and it is a helpful contribution to the idea of pushing this Bill forward.

None other than the current Chancellor, before he became Chancellor, has spoken about taxation freedom day on two occasions. First, interviewed by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian on 2 June 2006, he said:

“This Saturday—June 3—we celebrate Tax Freedom Day. That is the point in the year when people stop working for the chancellor and start earning for themselves.”

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In 2006, according to this enlightened quotation, the then shadow Chancellor saw the value of taxation freedom day. I very much hope that now he is the actual Chancellor he can put his words into practice. On another occasion, when interviewed in 2007 about taxation freedom day having slipped to 1 June in 2007 from 27 May in 1997, he was quoted in the Daily Express as saying:

“Here’s the proof that Gordon Brown’s stealth taxes hit us every hour of the working day. Hard-working people hand their money over to the Chancellor and the tragedy is that they cannot trust him to spend it wisely.”

In his role as shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), has on two occasions publicly backed the idea of taxation freedom day. That is extremely helpful, and I hope that point of view is now consistent with Her Majesty’s Treasury in its present form.

On 6 June—D-day—2000, Mr Deputy Speaker, none other than your boss, the Speaker, tabled a ten-minute rule Bill called the Taxation (Right to Know) Bill, which had three main elements. If I may quote Mr Speaker in his absence, he said:

“In my Bill, the Treasury is required to prepare and send to every household and business an annual statement of the rates of each tax and excise duty…My second proposal is that the proportion of the purchase price of key products that is represented by tax and excise duty should be publicly displayed on the bills that customers pay…My third suggestion is that each year the Treasury should publish an assessment of the merits of each tax, considering not only its yield but its administration cost, its compliance cost and its economic cost in terms of lost output and diminished competitiveness.”—[Official Report, 6 June 2000; Vol. 351, c. 175-176.]

In his remarks to the House, the right hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) stressed that our taxation freedom day, which in 2000 was on 29 June, was no fewer than 20 days worse than in the United States, where it had fallen on 10 May. The Bill proposed by Mr Speaker—before he was Speaker—in 2000 and my Bill essentially try to do very similar things. We are trying to make the burden of taxation on every individual business and organisation in this land far more transparent so that taxpayers can understand how much of their money is going to the Government and what it is being spent on.

That drive for transparency is being promoted by all sorts of organisations, not least the TaxPayers Alliance, which, in a major tax transparency campaign, has launched a tax app. For those of us who are rather technologically challenged, that might not be immediately appealing, but that will not be so for enlightened individuals such as my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary, or even my hon. Friends the Members for Harlow (Robert Halfon), for Bury North, and for Shipley (Philip Davies), who are at the forefront of IT developments. The Tax Buster app for smartphones allows shoppers to find out how much they really pay when buying everyday items. With a few details about any particular purchase, it can calculate how much money from an item went on VAT and duties.

Robert Halfon: Can my hon. Friend confirm whether this app would be compatible with BlackBerrys?

Mr Hollobone: I am most grateful for that intervention. I think that the answer is yes. One would have to access the Tax Buster website to find out how to do so. I think

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that the app is available for all kinds of cellphone technology. I know that my hon. Friend has the very latest gadget.

When an individual puts into the app a few details about their purchase, it tells them how much they had to earn before they paid taxes to have enough money to buy the product. For example, 20 cigarettes that cost £6.49 would have cost £1.24 without indirect taxes. Paying the £6.49—I am looking at my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), who I believe might occasionally buy the odd cigarette—requires earnings of £11.35 before income and corporate taxes.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I would like to put it on the record that I share wholeheartedly my hon. Friend’s concern that cigarettes are over-taxed. That is a clear case for reform, which I hope Treasury Ministers will take on board.

Mr Hollobone: I am most grateful for that helpful intervention.

My next point will be of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow. Filling the car with £60-worth of petrol would cost only £23.86 without indirect taxes. Paying that £60 requires £104.84 in earnings before income and corporate taxes. For higher rate taxpayers, the equivalent figure is £122.91.

Robert Halfon: I thank my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. Does he agree that if the Government do not raise fuel duty as planned in January, the day on which taxation freedom day falls will be much earlier?

Mr Hollobone: That is a very good point and the Economic Secretary has heard it. She will also have heard the voice of the House expressed only the other week in support of my hon. Friend’s motion. The burden of petrol taxation has got to such a level that it is probably constraining economic growth in an unacceptable way, at a time when growth from anywhere would be most grateful.

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend said what the gross figure would be for a higher rate taxpayer. Of course, we now have two rates of higher tax at 40% and 50%. Does he know to which of those rates his figure applies?

Mr Hollobone: I believe that the figure I quoted is applicable to the lower of the higher rates. The figure would be even worse for those who pay the top rate. I am sure that the Tax Buster app has a facility to calculate the tax burden for those on the very highest rate.

The aim of the app is to bring greater clarity and to illustrate for taxpayers the need for more transparent taxes. The Government have been pushing for more spending transparency, which is welcome. I hope that in her remarks, the Economic Secretary will welcome this effort to make our taxation system more transparent and offer the TaxPayers Alliance the Government’s support.

Another great concern for taxpayers is that this country has two big taxes on individual incomes: income tax and national insurance contributions. There are many in this Chamber and many organisations outside who believe that those two should be combined. That would make the taxation system more readily understandable

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for taxpayers. To most people, national insurance is almost indistinguishable from income tax. Its function is now essentially the same—raising revenue for the Government. Despite performing essentially the same task, the two systems operate in a different manner in eight key ways, for example in the collection period and the definition of earnings. That is unnecessarily complex and adds to the expense of collecting revenue for Her Majesty’s Treasury. Most importantly, national insurance contributions obscure the public’s understanding of how much they are being taxed. Most debate at the time of the Budget or the autumn statement focuses on the level of income tax. National insurance, despite being extremely important, is often overlooked.

I would support reforming national insurance to align it with income tax, which would cut costs, reduce complexity and improve transparency. I therefore believe that the Government should abolish national insurance for both employers and employees, and combine it into one taxation system. Abolishing national insurance would make the whole thing simpler, cheaper and more transparent.

I have spoken about the simple version of taxation freedom day, but of course we can take the matter a step further. As well as having a national taxation freedom day, we could break it down into regional variations. The Adam Smith Institute has done that for the United Kingdom. It calculates that in 2011, there are huge variations. In Wales, the regional equivalent is after 35 days, and in London it is after 51 days. The taxpayer in London is having to work for 51 days with all their income going to the Treasury, but in Wales it is far less. In the east midlands, where the constituency that I have the privilege to represent is located, it is 38 days.

The institute has also calculated the number of days that it takes Britons as a whole to pay off each individual tax. For example, income tax takes up the first 39 days of the year; national insurance the next 26 days; VAT the next 29 days; corporation tax the following 12 days; fuel duties and petroleum revenue tax the next seven days; local taxes including business rates and council tax the following 13 days; capital gains and inheritance tax the next two days; duty on alcohol and tobacco the next five days; and all other taxes the following 17 days. Again, that helps to clarify the burden of taxation on the hard-pressed British taxpayer and how it is split up by each of the individual taxes that we are all obliged to pay.

I mentioned earlier the briefing that the Government information machine has circulated about my Bill. I have to say, I am very disappointed by it, and it makes a number of points that need to be tackled head-on. I will do that now, so that instead of reading out those points the Minister can respond to them. The Government’s first attack point is:

“The methodology for calculating Tax Freedom Day includes all forms of direct, indirect and local taxes. This gives an exaggerated sense of the tax burden on an individual level and does not recognise the progressive elements of the tax system.”

I do not share that concern. I do not want to exaggerate anything; all I want is a transparent system.

I would welcome comments from the Government about how they feel the burden of taxation on the average British taxpayer ought to be calculated. I am not particularly fussed about the methodology of that,

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as long as it is consistent year on year and can be backdated for a reasonable number of years so that we can get a sense of the progression either way. As I stressed at the beginning, my Bill is politically neutral in that sense. It does not argue that taxation is a good or bad thing; it is simply intended to make the way of getting that across to the public as transparent as possible.

The Government’s second attack point is:

“Acknowledging the need for freedom from taxation disregards the public benefits that flow from the revenue raised, through public spending. These include some of the country’s most important priorities—the healthcare of our people, the education of our young, our nation’s security, and the infrastructure that supports our economic growth.”

Of course, that is right. We need taxation and public services. I am not arguing with that. My Bill is politically neutral in that sense and does not disregard the public benefits of taxation; it simply aims to get across to the British people how much they are obliged to cough up to pay for those public services.

The third point:

“In the past decade the date for Tax Freedom has varied very little. How can those supporting the Bill justify the expense and Parliamentary time that will be taken up designating a specific date each year?...What assessment have those supporting the Bill made of the costs to the Treasury of the proposed legislation?”

The Government must have been struggling to come up with attack points when they got to that one because I cannot imagine that much expense would be involved in designating taxation freedom day.

Mr Nuttall: Furthermore, as my hon. Friend has demonstrated, over the years tax freedom day has fluctuated wildly.

Mr Hollobone: Indeed. The Office for National Statistics is a thoroughly competent organisation whose judgment we all respect, and I cannot believe that to get this exercise under way would place a massive burden on it or Her Majesty’s Treasury. The Adam Smith Institute, through its good offices, has published its version of this information. That is a small, privately funded organisation. Given all of Her Majesty’s Treasury’s resources, at taxpayers’ expense, I am sure that getting this exercise under way would be a small matter. On parliamentary time, we are talking about one statutory instrument a year, and we know that passing hundreds of statutory instruments accounts for only a small fraction of the cost of running Parliament.

Philip Davies: Is it not bizarre that the Government, who are happy to give £18 billion a year to the European Union without so much as a by-your-leave, are quibbling over the cost of setting out when tax freedom day is each year?

Mr Hollobone: It does rather put it into perspective, does it not? I shall not be led too far astray, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I cannot resist adding to the strength of my hon. Friend’s point. Our bill to the EU for the last five years of the previous Government was £19 billion, but in the lifetime of the coalition Government to 2015 it is set to be £41 billion. It will more than double.

Charlie Elphicke: May I suggest one saving that could be made to help fund the cost of these regulations? The excellent TaxPayers Alliance recently published a document

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showing that we could save £113 million by getting rid of all the full-time paid union officials, which would also enable people to work more effectively.

Mr Hollobone: That is right. That so-called facility time is of huge concern to taxpayers up and down the land. [Interruption.] I know that this point exercises some Labour Members, and I can understand their concern —they have their views—but the Bill is a transparency exercise, so those, like Labour Members, who believe in facility time and recognise its value will have no problem recognising that that facility time, which costs hundreds of millions of pounds, will shift taxation freedom day. They can argue the benefits of facility time to the British taxpayer. I happen to disagree with facility time because I do not think that public money should be spent on such things, but I recognise that there are views on the other side. My Bill does not state whether such spending is good or bad; it simply tries to demonstrate its effect on the public purse. That is why I hope that Members on both sides of the House will support the Bill on Second Reading.

My Bill is a small Bill—it does not even run to two pages—it is concise and it proposes the establishment of a simple and straightforward mechanism to let British taxpayers know how much of their money goes each year to Her Majesty’s Government through all the different burdens of taxation. It is not just about income tax or national insurance contributions; it tries to add up the total burden of taxation on every man, woman and child in the country. There is a need for transparency, because a particularly enthused member of the public who was trying to work out the burden of taxation might, for example, go to the Finance Bill, which is typically more than 500 pages long, with hundreds of different clauses, or one of the Budget reports, with its supporting documentation, which also run to hundreds of pages, containing huge amounts of detail. However, a taxation freedom day—a calendar point each year that simply illustrated the burden of taxation—would be a lot more readily understood.

Importantly, a taxation freedom day would also help to expose the increasing burden of stealth taxes on our economy. It is all very well concentrating on the headline rates of income tax, the thresholds at which they kick in or national insurance contributions, but as we have seen over the last decade, one of the big increases has been in stealth taxes, particularly council tax, in the hope that the British public would not spot that. However, by having an effect on taxation freedom day, the burden of stealth taxation on our economy could also be exposed.

In closing, I would like to stress that my Bill is politically neutral. It is an attempt to make our country’s taxation system more transparent, in a way that, crucially, every individual in the land would readily and easily understand. I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Minister has been persuaded by the power of my arguments and that she will confirm that the Government will support the Bill, because there is enough time in the current Session for it to complete its passage.

1.1 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) for introducing his Bill. He is a great champion in this House not just of his constituents, but of common

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sense. This Bill is a prime example of the common sense he is trying to bring to bear on this House and on the Government.

I am optimistic, and would urge my hon. Friend to be optimistic too, because in the Minister we have someone who is broad-minded. She will not just be persuaded by the drivel that was written by the Government machine—as I think he so delicately put it—but will listen to the force of his argument. I was certainly persuaded by the power of his argument, and I am sure that other hon. Members were. If we were persuaded, I see no reason why she would not be persuaded either, given her qualities and her open-mindedness. I therefore look forward to a rethink of the briefing from the Government machinery. Indeed, I am sure that her speech is being torn up as we speak, to reflect the points that my hon. Friend made.

My hon. Friend is a reasonable man—something that probably I am not—and he made the point that his Bill is neutral. He did not say whether taxes should be higher or lower; he is merely trying to introduce some transparency. Therein lies the weakness of his Bill, if he does not mind me saying so. I return to the point that I made in my earlier intervention. The Bill would be much healthier if it were far more partisan and made the point that taxes are too high and should be lower. I would therefore love to insert in the Bill a date each year beyond which tax freedom day must not fall, thereby acting as a safeguard to prevent taxpayers from excessive taxation, however bad the Government were in future. When his Bill goes to Committee, as I am sure it will, I would wish to move an amendment proposing that. I think that most taxpayers would welcome it.

My hon. Friend made the perfectly reasonable point that there is a slight discrepancy in how tax freedom day is calculated. I would therefore wish to guard against Governments obsessed with spin—I am sure he can think of some from the not-too-distant past—trying to manipulate the calculation of tax freedom day to suit their own ends and their own agenda. I do not know whether he considered this in preparing his Bill, but although the Government may well be strapped for cash—it seems that they cannot afford to announce when tax freedom day is; I am not entirely sure what the cost incurred in doing so is, but it is clearly substantial—perhaps we should encourage them to state where the UK is in the league table compared with other countries. If every country is being calculated on the same basis, at least we will know, however it is done, that every country is being calculated on the same basis, so we can look at where Britain stands in the league table and see whether we are doing relatively better or worse than other countries. Helpfully, the Molinari Economic Institute has provided such a document based on the reports it produces each year.

Relevant to this debate is the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering about the differences in calculations. He and I think that tax freedom day fell on 30 May this year, which was three days later than it was in the previous year, which might be one reason why the Government have changed their minds about the publication of tax freedom day. They might not wish to draw attention to the fact that tax freedom day is three days later this year than it was last year. I put that out there as a possible explanation for the change of policy.

Those who produced the document that calculates tax freedom day across Europe are clearly more generous

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because they have this country’s day as falling on 17 May —13 days earlier. I do not think we should be led astray by what date it is; what is important to me is where the United Kingdom falls in relation to other countries in the European Union—and, indeed, countries outside the EU, which also appear in the table. The figures show how competitive our economy is in comparison with our neighbours.

My hon. Friend may be surprised to know that the UK does reasonably well, even though 17 May might seem too long for those who believe that taxes are too high. I would urge my hon. Friend, however, to avoid Belgium like the plague, as Belgian tax freedom day, according to this document, is 4 August. I certainly urge people in Belgium to rise up against their Government and demand lower taxes.

In order that people do not become complacent, I point out that in Cyprus tax freedom day is 13 March. I do not know about my hon. Friend, but I would certainly urge the Government to move more towards a Cypriot level of taxation than to a Belgian one. This gives the Government something to aim for—perhaps a target. I am not usually a big fan of targets, but perhaps the Government could target themselves to beat Cyprus.

Mr Hollobone: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, which I am hugely enjoying. Does he have the figures for Greece? Can he confirm whether the Greek Government actually collected any taxes at all?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a good point. According to the document I have with me, Greece’s tax freedom day is 12 June. Whether that was simply an academic exercise rather than a real one, I am not entirely sure. I probably share my hon. Friend’s implied view that, for far too many Greeks, tax freedom day was 1 January. I am not advocating that this Government aim for a 1 January tax freedom day, but I am sure they can do better than they are at the moment—on the best analysis I have seen, the middle of May or what we think is actually the end of May.

Charlie Elphicke: Is not a central point about tax freedom days in relation to Greece the need to avoid the risk of creative accounting? We must be sure that accounts are accurate, especially where there has been a change of Government. I believe that the Labour party has so far spent its bank tax nine or 10 times over. We must ensure that, whatever happens, there will be no creative accounting; we must be able to trust the figures.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right, and I believe that the Bill will provide a good safeguard against Governments exercising sleight of hand in their presentation of figures. If we have an independent body—I do not really care whether it is the Office for National Statistics, which is mentioned in the Bill, or the Office for Budget Responsibility—and a set of figures that can be trusted, no matter how many times the Government announce the same tax increases or tax cuts, we would at least know where we stood as we would have trusted figures that overrode the spin. I think that the Bill is a particularly good safeguard against that.

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The Adam Smith Institute has been on to this for quite some time, and has helpfully informed people when tax freedom day falls in this country. Although the transparency element is important, what I find most striking is the fact that British people must work for 149 days just to pay their taxes. I was also interested by the regional variations mentioned by my hon. Friend. The Welsh, for instance, spend 35 days paying their income tax, while people in London spend 51 days paying theirs.

I do not understand why the Government do not want to make people aware of how difficult the Government’s financial position is. The Adam Smith Institute used a tax freedom day-style mechanism to illustrate the extent of the United Kingdom’s debt problem. It calculated that our burden of debt was so great that UK taxpayers would need to work for nearly a year and a half, with their entire wage packet going to the Government and not a penny being spent on public services, just to pay off the national debt.

When the Government talks of our being heavily in debt, whether they are telling us that we are adding £150 billion a year to our debt or that the debt burden is more than £1 trillion, it is difficult for people to get their heads around the figures. Millions used to sound like a lot of money, but nowadays no one is interested unless it is billions. Explaining to people in simple terms that they would have to pay tax for a year and a half without any of it being spent on public services would make the extent of the debt clear to them.

We could also be shown a way out of our financial problems. Sam Bowman, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, says:

“Tax Freedom Day underlines the huge burden of government on working people’s lives. For five months of the year, we are slaves to the state. No wonder growth is so slow—we need robust tax reform now, bringing lower, simpler, flatter taxes. The government should resolve to make Tax Freedom Day something we can celebrate earlier and earlier each year.”

I think that Sam Bowman is on to something. When we can see the facts for ourselves, when we worry about where growth in the economy will come from and conclude that it depends on people having more and more disposable income so that they can go to the shops and buy things—thus helping businesses—and when we are made aware of how long people are having to work just to pay their taxes without even having a disposable income, the way out of our debt problem begins to become clear. If we can indeed make tax freedom day arrive earlier and earlier, people will have more and more disposable income that they can use to try to get the economy going. I think that that would help the Government to see a way towards economic growth, which is what will solve our debt problem—together with, I hope, a cut in Government expenditure at some point. They do not seem to have been able to manage that so far.

Let me draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the position in other parts of the world, particularly America. Traditionally, America has been far better at generating economic growth than the wretched European Union ever has. This year, tax freedom day in the United States will arrive on 12 April, well over a month before it arrives in this country. Whereas in this country people must work for 149 days just to pay their taxes, in America they need work for only 102. Many of my constituents would much rather work for 102 days than 149.

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The great recession has reduced tax collections even faster than it has reduced income. After a long debate, President Obama and the Congress extended the Bush-era tax cuts for two additional years, which is very welcome. Despite those tax reductions, Americans will pay more in taxes in 2011 than they will spend on groceries, clothing and shelter combined, despite the fact that tax freedom day falls much earlier in America.

The statistics in America are calculated by state—my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering gave figures for different parts of the UK—and they are very revealing. Mississippi has the lowest average tax burden of all the states, and its tax freedom day falls as early as 26 March, whereas in Connecticut it falls on 2 May and in New Jersey it falls on 29 April. There are massive regional variations, therefore, and drawing comparisons can serve to promote competition between states. If voters in America can see how their state compares with other states, they might be encouraged to say, for instance, “Well, hold on a minute; if Mississippi can have tax freedom day on 26 March, why can’t we have that in Connecticut, too?”

One of the best ways to get Governments to reduce the tax burden is to introduce an element of competition. That is why I want the Bill’s provisions to be strengthened so that we encourage the Government to set out in the calculations how the UK compares with other countries in respect of a tax freedom day, and in particular how we compare with countries such as America whose economic growth has traditionally been stronger than ours. After all, if we want to grow the economy, we should want to adopt best practice. Any business that wants to improve its performance will look at what its competitors do. That is how most organisations seek to improve; they benchmark their own performance against that of similar organisations to see what they might do better. I would like the Government to start doing that in respect of taxation rates. If they are forced both to show that lower taxes can be delivered in other parts of the world and to consider how those countries achieve that, they might then try to introduce a similar discipline and focus to this country.

Mr Hollobone: I am sure there will be intense competition for places on the Committee, but does my hon. Friend share my optimism that the Bill might be able to pass through that stage and complete its passage during this parliamentary Session, so that many of his welcome ideas become legislation?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is very kind. I would not be so bold as to say that my amendments would improve his Bill, as it is perfectly good in its current form. I am merely using this opportunity to suggest some ways in which it could, perhaps, be strengthened. If my hon. Friend is seeking cross-party consensus and therefore does not entirely share my agenda, I could, perhaps, be persuaded to ditch some of my more strident amendments in order to get the basic measures through. I merely offer these amendments up now to show that the Bill could be improved.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): My hon. Friend was making a very good speech up to that point; the idea that he should retreat or give in on any issue is

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appalling, but when he is absolutely right, as he is on this one, I must ask him to press it very firmly in Committee.

Philip Davies: Again, my hon. Friend is very kind. I am probably more strident than my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is clearly more strident than I am, so I invite him to take part in more debates that I am involved in to show what a moderate I am. His presence is very helpful in that regard and I thank him for that.

The country is in a massive financial hole. I want to stress that I do not think that the Bill is simply something that will add transparency to the situation so that people can see where they stand; I think it has the potential to be much better and more radical than that. It will give an opportunity for people in this country to start questioning seriously why our rates of tax need to be so high, given that other countries, often ones doing better than us, seem to manage with a much lower rate of tax. If we can get that agenda discussed in politics, we can do something that will transform the British economy—it does need transforming.

We cannot carry on as we are, trying to get ourselves out of huge debt by scoring a few quick singles here and there. We need to go for some boundaries—we need to go for some fours and sixes if we are to get ourselves out of this. Quick running between the wickets, on its own, is not going to make any impression. The Bill has the potential to change radically the way we think about taxation in this country, and about how we press our Governments to do the right thing and be more efficient in the way they do government.

I do not want to overstay my welcome, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I will close on that point, but I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering that, once again, he has put a vital issue on to the political agenda. Although my speech will certainly not have persuaded the Government to support his Bill, I still see no reason why his speech would not have done so. I look forward to the Government supporting the Bill and at least allowing it to go into Committee.

1.22 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): As always, it is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who has demonstrated the great need for this Bill. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on preparing the Bill and bringing it before the House today. In his opening remarks, he said that he thought that this was a simple and straightforward measure and, of course, in many ways it is. I have a great deal of sympathy for the measure, and I would have thought that hon. Members on both sides of the House could agree on the issue of transparency on tax matters.

I start from the position of broadly supporting the principle of ensuring that taxpayers should be given clear information about the size of their tax burden. I was initially very encouraged that the Bill would go a long way towards improving the transparency of our tax system, but when I began to study the detail of the Bill and consider all the issues involved, I found that in many ways it is far from simple and straightforward.

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Indeed, this is a fiendishly complex matter, which is not as simple and straightforward as it may appear at first sight.

I wish to deal with several issues in my contribution, the first of which is why making the tax burden more transparent is so important. Taxation legislation is incredibly complex, covering a wide variety of taxes and duties. Indeed, it is worrying that the list is so long. Most people, when they hear the word tax, automatically think of income tax, but that is just one of several taxes with which the individual might be burdened. To income tax, we can add value added tax, national insurance, capital gains tax, stamp duty, fuel duty, alcohol duty, tobacco duty, air passenger duty, insurance premium tax, landfill tax, corporation tax, petroleum revenue tax, council tax, the climate change levy and the aggregates levy. Then, for anyone who has still managed to live frugally enough to be left with any assets after paying their way through life while paying all those taxes, subject to the various exemptions and the nil rate band, those assets are taxed again, with the imposition of the inheritance tax.

Robert Halfon: Is my hon. Friend not making the case for a flat tax?

Mr Nuttall: There is a great need for simplification of our tax system and a flat tax might well have a part to play in that.

Mark Twain is often attributed with the quotation that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes, and throughout the ages Governments have always cast around for things to tax. Over the years, we have had window taxes, beard taxes and brick taxes. I particularly like—only because it will give me the chance to mention that great son of Bury, Sir Robert Peel—the glass tax that was introduced in 1746, in the reign of King George II. At that time, glass was sold by weight and manufacturers responded to the tax by producing smaller and more highly decorated objects, often with hollow stems, which are today known as excise glasses. If anyone has ever wondered why the crystal glassmaking industry flourished in Cork and Waterford, it was because in 1780 the Government granted Ireland free trade in glass, which continued until 1825, when the tax in Ireland was restored. That led to a gradual decline in the industry until the glass tax was finally abolished by that great son of Bury, Sir Robert Peel, and his Government in 1845.

The complexity of today’s tax legislation is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that Pythagoras’s theorem can be set out in 31 words—I was told it was 24, but when I counted there were 31—the Lord’s prayer contains 66, the 10 commandments contain 179, the US declaration of independence contains 1,300 and the entire United States constitution, with all 27 amendments, apparently contains 7,818, but to get to grips with the United Kingdom’s tax system, one would have to purchase several weighty volumes such as Tolley’s tax manuals, setting one back several hundred pounds.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Is it, however, shorter than the acquis communautaire?

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Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That would weigh even more, I am sure, and it is certainly weighing more on the efficiency and competitiveness of British business. As he will be aware, my view is that the sooner we can free ourselves from the acquis communautaire the better.

When one considers those facts, it is no wonder that adopting a simple way of demonstrating to people the size of their tax burden by calculating and publishing the number of days the average individual would have to work to discharge it is such an attractive idea. The result of all the complexity, of course, is that people do not understand how much tax they really pay, but putting it in terms of how many days the average person has to work solely to pay taxes would start to bring it home to people.

Philip Davies: May I float another idea past my hon. Friend? Not only should the day on which people have paid off their taxes be announced as tax freedom day, but there should also be an announcement of the day on which the Government’s spending programme has been matched fully by taxation. In America, tax freedom day is on 12 April, but if all the money to pay for all the Government spending had to be collected—$1.48 trillion more—the date would be 23 May. Perhaps we should also see what the gap is between taxation and the amount that the Government are incurring in expenditure.

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That could be dealt with in Committee; we could amend the Bill to include that date as well. That opens up a whole new area of complexity, because there is not only the difference between income, expenditure and the actual spending programme to consider but the effect of existing debt that needs to be paid off.

Let me deal with the Bill in a little more detail. Clause 1(1) requires the Chancellor of the Exchequer to specify one day each year that

“shall be observed as Taxation Freedom day.”

Unfortunately, the Bill is silent on how we as a nation are to observe this great day. I understand the reluctance of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering to suggest having another bank holiday, but I submit that it might be appropriate to mark the day with an annual debate in the House on the ways in which the burden of taxation could be reduced in future years and hence the day brought forward.

Mr Hollobone: I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech hugely, and that is a most constructive suggestion. In formulating the Bill, I had in mind that at the very least the Chancellor of the Exchequer could make an oral statement to the House and we could then question him or her on the taxation freedom day proposals, but an annual debate—with a motion, one would hope—would be excellent.

Mr Nuttall: I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr Bone: Will my hon. Friend make it clear that if there were to be such an oral statement by the Chancellor, it should be made to the House first rather than being given to the media in advance?

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Mr Nuttall: Yes; in view of recent publicity I am sure that all Government Ministers will want to make announcements to the House first.

The purpose of tax freedom day is set out clearly in clause 1(2), as being to mark the day in each year when

“the United Kingdom’s net national income (calculated from the beginning of the calendar year) reaches the level of the United Kingdom’s estimated level of national taxation for that calendar year.”

At this point the whole matter becomes more complicated. The term “total national taxation” is helpfully defined in clause 1(3) as including

“all forms of direct, indirect and local taxation”,

and as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering mentioned, the task of making this calculation is given over to the Office for National Statistics. However, the problem with that approach is that very few people’s personal tax freedom day would actually coincide with the day specified under the Bill. Levels of council tax vary throughout the country and dwellings are divided into several bands within council tax. It seems to me that in this age of personalisation of services, the Bill could usefully go on to provide for the notification to each individual taxpayer of their personal tax freedom day.

That is not a new idea. In Canada, the Fraser Institute provides a personal tax freedom day calculator which takes into account variables such as the age of the head of the household, their marital status and the number of children they have. I wonder whether the TaxPayers Alliance app for mobile telephones and tablet computers that my hon. Friend mentioned earlier could be adapted to provide a personal tax freedom day for individuals.

What about so-called non-taxpayers? I am always mystified by the term “non-taxpayer”. I accept that there are people who, for various reasons, might not pay income tax, and thanks to the steps that this Government are taking, fewer and fewer people are paying income tax. I am pleased that we are moving towards the target of a £10,000 personal allowance each year. That is a huge improvement in the field of tax simplification and it has meant, for example, that this year’s £1,000 increase in the personal allowance has removed an additional 800,000 people from the burden of paying income tax.

However, we should not fall into the trap of thinking that those who do not pay income tax are non-taxpayers. They could still be liable for council tax. They may still have to pay insurance premium tax. If they travel, they will have to pay air passenger duty. Whenever they purchase goods or services that are liable for VAT, they will have to pay value added tax. The list goes on.

Charlie Elphicke: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being extremely generous in taking interventions. My own research has indicated to me that the effective tax rate on the least well-off in the past 10 years, under the previous Government, was higher than the effective tax rate on the richest. That is the inequality fostered under the previous Government.

Mr Nuttall: Yes, and we must not allow ourselves to think that people who are non-income tax payers are non-taxpayers. There is a great difference. They would, I suspect, be very surprised if the total tax liability from all the various forms of indirect taxation was

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calculated and expressed, as the Bill seeks to do in a general way for the nation, as their own personal tax freedom day.

We should ask ourselves why this approach to transparency has not been adopted before now by the Government and by previous Governments. The idea of a tax freedom day was developed decades ago in 1948, in the aftermath of world war two, when a Florida businessman who went by the great American name Dallas Hostetler trademarked the phrase “tax freedom day”. He proceeded to calculate it for the nation for the next two decades until he retired in 1971, when he transferred the trademark to the Tax Foundation, which ever since has continued to calculate the American tax freedom day. It is used as a mechanism for illustrating the proportion of national income that is diverted to fund the annual cost of Government programmes.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley mentioned, since 1990 the Tax Foundation has been calculating a separate tax freedom day for each state. The concept of calculating a nation’s tax freedom day is enormously popular around the world. Dozens of countries produce their own calculations. There are too many, the House will be relieved to hear, for me to list individually. What is important for the purposes of comparison is for the calculations to be based on the same year. Fortunately, that can be done in the case of the European Union.

Last year a newspaper in Brussels entitled L’Anglophone compared the tax burdens for workers earning a typical wage in each of the 27 member states of the European Union. It took into account the income tax contributions and the social security contributions made by the employee and the employer, and included a projected value added tax contribution. From this research we see that the latest tax freedom day in one of the member states occurred in Hungary. It was 6 August, the 218th day of the year, representing a tax burden of an eye-watering 59.4%. The earliest tax freedom day in the EU was in Cyprus—this endorses the statistics produced by my hon. Friend—where it was calculated to be 13 March, or day 72, representing a tax burden of just 19.4%.

The importance of establishing a correct basis for calculation is perhaps best illustrated by looking at just one of those countries: Belgium. The accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers calculated that for the second year running tax freedom day in Belgium fell on 8 June, whereas L’ Anglo phone research indicated that it fell almost two months later on 3 August, or day 215, representing a tax burden of 58.5%. The authors of L’ Ang l o phone explained the discrepancy by noting that PricewaterhouseCoopers’s figures

“count revenue from all taxes (including those on corporate profits, petrol, cigarettes, &c.) and thus present a more complete picture of the country’s total tax burden.”

They added that it is

“an average applied to all Belgians—not all Belgian workers; in 2008, less than half of Belgium’s population (4.99 million working out of 10.67 million citizens) was legally working. Consequently, a huge share of Belgium’s tax burden is borne by the working population.”

That demonstrates the need for consensus around the world on an agreed formula for calculating tax freedom day, and I submit that that should be discussed and agreed at a future meeting of the G20. It also demonstrates the complexity of the tax involved and why for many people a personalised approached might be the way forward.

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Another complication that would become apparent when comparing one year with another is the effect of a leap year. Indeed, next year will be affected, as 2012 is a leap year. It is worth noting that leap years have a slightly distorting effect on comparisons, to the extent of 1/366, or 0.27%.

I must deal with one of the major criticisms I have heard levelled at the idea of publishing a tax freedom day: the notion that that somehow devalues the importance of the work done by those engaged in public service. I do not accept that for one minute. I think that the British people are quite capable of recognising the need to pay our armed forces and police forces and all those who are essential public sector employees. The introduction of a taxation freedom day will provide citizens with a reminder of the amount of tax they pay and an opportunity to consider whether what they pay is reflected in the value of the public services they receive.

I have another concern, about the requirement set out in clause 1(2) stating that the UK’s net national income will be

“calculated from the beginning of the calendar year”.

I understand that the Adam Smith Institute calculates tax freedom day in that way. Indeed, having looked at the systems used around the world, it seems that calculating it from the start of the calendar year is the usual way. However, I suspect that that has arisen because in America the tax year is the same as the calendar year and, as the concept of tax freedom day started in America, that is what has been adopted in other countries.

Here in the United Kingdom, however, we of course run our tax year from 6 April, so I wonder whether it would not be simpler and easier to calculate the figures for notional income and the level of taxation on the same basis as the tax year, rather than the calendar year. Again, we could consider that in more detail in Committee.

The calculation period is particularly relevant when one considers the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s duties, which are set out in clause 2. The Chancellor will be required before the last day of November to estimate the taxation freedom day in the following calendar year, which will mean having to estimate the levels of taxation and spending for the following year before the annual Budget. The whole process might be better aligned with the annual Budget, however. Indeed, it could become a centrepiece of each year’s Budget, so that when the Chancellor made the annual statement he announced the annual tax freedom day.

It would of course be simple to base the calculation on the traditional tax year, and for the number of days required to be calculated on that basis. For example, if the 2011 Adam Smith Institute figure for the UK of 149 days—representing 40.8% of the year—had been calculated from 6 April, taxation freedom day would have been 1 September, and for the purposes of international comparison it could then, as it is now, be given as 30 May, the equivalent date from a 1 January start.

There is a further problem with calculating a national figure, and it arises in respect of Scotland. The Scottish Parliament now has limited tax-raising powers of its own, and if it exercised them it would lead to a distortion of the national figure. The existing power to increase income tax by 3p in the pound has not been used, but,

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when the new powers become available after the passage of the Scotland Bill, and with a Scottish National party Government in power in Scotland, they could be used, so a separate figure ought to be calculated for Scotland. It would not be fair or equitable for the UK Government to be criticised for spending decisions taken in Holyrood.

In conclusion, the Bill raises important issues about the levels of taxation and spending. Increased transparency in Government spending is vital, and I warmly welcome the measures that the Government have already taken to reveal the detail of public expenditure. Shining the searchlight of public scrutiny on the spending decisions of politicians is without doubt one of the best ways to control Government spending, and such moves help at the micro-level, but this Bill will extend the principle of public scrutiny, openness and transparency to the macro-level.

A single, simple day can be tracked each year. It can be monitored, and I venture that it could become a feature of general election contests, with the parties including in their manifestos their target for tax freedom day over the lifetime of the following Parliament.

I sincerely hope that the Bill receives its Second Reading and is able to proceed into Committee, so that we can take it through its remaining stages when we meet again on 20 January.

1.49 pm

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this debate, which is clearly of great importance to him. He referred to two dates: 1972, when tax freedom day would have been earliest in the year, and 1982, when it would have been latest.

In 1972 we had a three-day week, so there was not much happiness, and there would not have been much to celebrate on taxation freedom day. In 1982, we had unemployment of 3 million. The reason taxation freedom day came so late that year might be that there were not enough jobs and more was being paid out in benefits with not enough coming in via tax revenue.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said that he would like us to be more like Cyprus and less like Belgium. The Belgian economy has grown by 1.8% over the past year, and Cyprus is one of just three countries in the European Union, along with Portugal and Greece, that has had a slower rate of growth than the anaemic growth that we have seen in the UK this year. I think that many of our constituents would rather we were a little more like Belgium, with stronger growth and lower unemployment, and a little less like Cyprus, but we may differ on that.

Philip Davies: I take it from what the hon. Lady has said that the Labour party’s official stance is that it would like taxation freedom day in this country to be 4 August.

Rachel Reeves: No, that is not our stance. If the hon. Gentleman would like us to be a bit more like Cyprus, he might want to look at it in the round, because, as I said, Cyprus is one of just three countries in the European Union that has grown at a slower rate than the UK this year.

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Conservative Members have spoken about the difference between taxation freedom day in the US and in the UK. One of the reasons taxation freedom day in the US will come a little earlier is that it does not have a national health service, and, as a result, people have to pay from their own income for the health service. If hon. Members took into account how much individuals and businesses contribute towards health care insurance in the US, they might find that its taxation freedom day came a little later in the year—perhaps even later than in the UK.

My main question is why we need a Bill on this. Hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Kettering, have spoken about the work of the TaxPayers Alliance and the Adam Smith Institute. If they have all the facts and figures, why do they not organise a celebration for taxation freedom day? Why do we need Government legislation? If we had Government legislation on taxation freedom day as a result of passing this Bill, the day might fall a little later in the year because of the additional costs.

Mr Bone: Surely the hon. Lady is not saying that the cost of announcing taxation freedom day would shift it by one day—that is patently absurd.

Rachel Reeves: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree, though, that there would be costs associated with the legislation, the statutory instrument, and civil servants’ time. I wonder why hon. Members want more legislation when presumably they really want less legislation and less money spent on civil servants and so on.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Lady has converted me. I always thought that Palmerston was right when he said that the House of Commons would eventually run out of things to legislate on. It is a thoroughly good idea that we should run out of things to legislate on and not legislate for everything we feel like. For once, I have been converted by a Labour Front Bencher.

Rachel Reeves: I am not sure whether to celebrate that, but this does seem to me to be a strange thing to want to have a piece of legislation on.

Mr Hollobone: An interesting comparator would be the interest that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) has taken in human trafficking. Her Majesty’s Government have designated an anti-slavery day and given it official recognition. All the Bill asks the Government to do is officially to recognise taxation freedom day.

Rachel Reeves: That does not seem necessary to me, but I guess that the hon. Gentleman and I disagree. If the work of the TaxPayers Alliance and the Adam Smith Institute is as fantastic as he thinks, why could they not organise a celebration, as other groups organise days to celebrate things? One does not necessarily need legislation in order to celebrate a day that one thinks important.

Mr Bone: There is a serious point here. Everyone knew when anti-slavery day was, but its official recognition by the Government lent weight to its importance. That is the reason taxation freedom day would be so important.

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Rachel Reeves: I guess that we disagree on that. There are costs associated with all these things and I do not think this is a cost that my constituents and many hon. Members’ constituents would want to bear.

That brings me to my main point. This is a worrying time for businesses and families throughout the country. They are struggling with higher food prices and fuel bills, and are worried about their jobs and their children’s future. I am not convinced that the hon. Member for Kettering has explained what the Bill would do to help an ordinary family in Kettering who are struggling with stagnant wages, high unemployment and high inflation. In Kettering, there has been an increase in long-term youth unemployment of 127% since January this year.

It seems to me that the most important thing that Members of Parliament can do in representing our constituents is to put in place policies to address those issues. I am not sure that celebrating tax freedom day would help get young people back to work, help families facing a squeeze in their living standards or help businesses that are seeing demand dry up. I am certainly not sure what it would do for the 4,000 people who are unemployed in my constituency of Leeds West.

One tax that the hon. Member for Kettering might want to change is VAT. I wonder whether next Tuesday he and other Government Members will support the Opposition when we argue that VAT should be cut temporarily. That would bring forward tax freedom day and put £450 in the pocket of the average family. It would be a real step to help families and businesses across the country.

The hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), who is no longer in his place, spoke about the tax on cigarettes. Many people would think—[ Interruption. ] Oh, here he is. Welcome back. It seems that if anyone mentions cigarettes, he is automatically in his place. Most of our constituents recognise that cigarettes should be taxed because they have social costs beyond the cost of producing and selling them. However, if one looks at the increase in the cost of petrol that we all face when we fill up our cars, reducing VAT back down to 17.5% would reduce the cost of petrol by 3p in the pound.

Philip Davies: If the hon. Lady is so keen for people to have an extra £450 back in their pocket, which I could certainly support, will her party propose a reduction in income tax to deliver that? If her party proposed cutting income tax to give £450 back to people, I might even be tempted to support it.

Rachel Reeves: The hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier—or it might have been the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), but I am sure that they agree—that the increase in the income tax threshold means that fewer people are paying income tax. The good thing about reducing VAT is that it has a progressive effect, because people on lower incomes spend a higher proportion of their income on VAT than people on higher incomes. A reduction in VAT would therefore help to get money in the pockets of the people who most need it at the moment in a way that a cut in income tax would not.

Robert Halfon: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for being so generous in giving way. She said that one way to reduce petrol and diesel prices would be to cut VAT. Is it not the case that the majority of businesses get their

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VAT back? What most people want is a fuel duty cut, which is why I welcomed the Government’s cut in fuel duty in the last Budget and hope that they will not increase it next year.

Rachel Reeves: The reduction in VAT would put money in the hands of families. Of course, most people who run businesses are also part of a family, so they would benefit from the reduction in VAT. Labour’s five-point plan for jobs and growth also includes a national insurance holiday for small businesses taking on new employees, so that plan would help families and businesses up and down the country.

Mr Bone: Are Government Members to assume that the hon. Lady has absolutely no support from her party, as the Opposition Benches are completely empty?

Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): I’m here.

Mr Bone: Well, they were empty.

Rachel Reeves: I think my hon. Friends are where I would like to be today—in the constituency meeting constituents, rather than here. I usually try to go back to my constituency on a Thursday, as do many other MPs. Of course, the Members who are here today think that this issue is more important than doing work in their constituencies.

Charlie Elphicke: A few moments ago, the hon. Lady mentioned the taxation of cigarettes. Seeing my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) in the Chamber, it is only right that I remind her that the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius said in his “Meditations”:

“Into every life a little rain must fall.”

Those of us who smoke have enough rain with the health hazard, without massive taxation on top.

Rachel Reeves: I am afraid I only went to a comprehensive school, so I did not study Latin. Maybe the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) would like to do some interpretation.

The hon. Member for Kettering reminds me of my holidays when I was at school. As he knows, I used to go to Kettering in all my school holidays, because my grandparents lived there. I still have many family members in Kettering.

Philip Davies: Do they vote for him?

Rachel Reeves: I expect not.

I was just thinking about the lives that my grandparents led and the things that mattered to them. Every day, they benefited from what happened in both the public and private sector. They worked in the shoe factories in Kettering, as the hon. Member for Kettering knows—we have discussed it before. However, they also lived in a council house, when they were ill they used Kettering general hospital, and their children went to state schools in Kettering. My father went to Kettering grammar school.

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Having a tax freedom day suggests that until that date in May, June or whenever it falls, people are contributing to someone or something else, or to the Exchequer. Actually, the money that they pay in taxes every day from the beginning of January until the end of December is used for things that matter to them, for instance building council houses such as my grandparents lived in, paying for teachers and for schools such as they went to and paying for nurses and doctors in the hospital that treated them when they were ill. It seems a little irrelevant to have a tax freedom day, because whether it is 5 February or 25 November, people need both what they pay their taxes for and disposable income to pay for things that matter to them. That is why those suggesting a tax freedom day misconstrue the situation.

Charlie Elphicke: The hon. Lady makes the point that public services need to be funded. Does she not recognise that tax is needed also to fund the interest on the Government’s debt, much of which was added by the previous Government? Does she share my regret that we have so much debt as a nation?

Rachel Reeves: The reality is that because the current Government have failed to get a grip on growth, and because unemployment is rising and inflation is higher than forecast, borrowing is now expected to be £46 billion higher over the course of this Parliament than they had previously planned. When the Office for Budget Responsibility reports next week, we are likely to see that Government borrowing will be higher still.

The point is that we cannot reduce the budget deficit just through tax increases and spending cuts. We also need economic growth, and we can see the difference between the UK’s growth rate of 0.5% over the past year and the higher rates of other countries such as the US, Canada and even Italy. We cannot reduce the deficit and get debt down unless the economy is growing again and creating jobs; otherwise, we will end up paying more out in benefits and getting less in through tax revenues. That is why the Government’s deficit reduction plans are not bearing fruit—they do not have the strategy for growth upon which all that hinges. I believe that if we want to reduce the deficit and get our constituents back to work, we need a plan for jobs and growth. Without that, borrowing will continue to get higher and tax freedom day will be a little bit later in the year.

I was looking earlier at Labour’s five-point plan for jobs and growth and wondering how much of it Conservative Members, particularly the hon. Member for Kettering, might support. The first point is a temporary reduction in VAT, which he might support because it would bring forward tax freedom day to slightly earlier in the year. I suspect that he would not support the second point, which is a £2 billion tax on bank bonuses, although most of our constituents would not be affected by it. The bank bonus tax would be used to fund 100,000 jobs for young people, which would get more people back to work and paying taxes and mean that less was being paid out in unemployment benefits. Perhaps that, too, would bring forward tax freedom day.

The third point is the introduction of long-term investment projects. That might sound like something that the hon. Gentleman would disagree with, but if it

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helps people to get back to work, particularly in the construction sector, perhaps Conservative Members would support it. It would get more people back to work and paying taxes. The fourth component of Labour’s five-point plan for jobs and growth is a one-year cut in VAT—to 5%—on home improvements. Perhaps Conservative Members could also support that, given that it is a tax cut. The fifth point is a one-year national insurance tax break for every small firm taking on new workers. I hope that they could support that, too, because it would help small businesses to take on more employees and get the economy moving again.

Charlie Elphicke: The hon. Lady mentions a long wish list but what would be the total cost in extra public spending?

Rachel Reeves: The Government will be borrowing more this Parliament because they are paying the costs of economic failure: they are paying the costs of having 2.62 million unemployed people, including 1.02 million unemployed young people; they are paying because growth, at 0.5% over the past year, is lower than the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast; and they are paying for the higher levels of inflation, which was 5.2% in September compared with the 4.3% that the OBR forecast, which means that we are paying out more in benefits.

The Government are borrowing £46 billion more this Parliament, and as I said earlier, that number is likely to rise next week because the Government have not done enough to get the economy moving, to get people back to work and to contain inflation. The VAT increase led directly to that increase. I accept that these policies would cost money but they would get people back into jobs, get the economy growing again and reduce the budget deficit at a more balanced pace. As Conservative Members have said in the past couple of days, it is clear that although targeted tax cuts now might mean a bit more borrowing, they would help to get the economy back on track, which would also help to reduce the budget deficit in a balanced way.

Charlie Elphicke: But would that extra borrowing not put at risk our interest rates? I do not know whether the hon. Lady is aware, but today the interest rates on UK gilts are lower than those on German bunds. I do not know when that last happened. The risk is that if we borrow more, interest rates will be higher, which will have vastly more negative effects on our economy than the current spending squeeze—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I do not want this turned into a general economics debate. I ask the hon. Lady to focus on the Bill.

Charlie Elphicke: May I finish first, Mr Deputy Speaker? That would delay tax freedom day.

Rachel Reeves: It is good to know that the hon. Gentleman will talk about more than just the cost of cigarettes. The last time I looked, yields on German Government bonds and UK gilts were 2.14% and 2.16% respectively. I do not know whether that changed when he nipped out of the Chamber for a cigarette.

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Market traders are looking for a deficit reduction plan, but they are also looking for economies that will grow. Economic growth is a component of reducing the debt and tackling the budget deficit. Unless we have growth, we pay out more in benefits and get in less in taxes. If we want tax freedom day to be a bit earlier in the year, we need more people in work and more businesses succeeding, which is why Labour’s five-point plan for jobs and growth is so important to getting people back to work and achieving the balanced deficit reduction that we need.

In conclusion, I do not support the Bill. It is not a good use of Government time, parliamentary time or taxpayers’ money to celebrate a tax freedom day. Our constituents would all prefer us to concentrate on the things that matter to them: jobs, growth and the squeeze on living standards. The Minister said earlier in the week that the Government were on track to meet their deficit reduction plans. It would be interesting to hear what she has to say about that today, ahead of the OBR’s numbers’ coming out next Tuesday. I believe that a policy of targeted tax cuts to help families is more in touch than the Government sticking doggedly to plan A. I thank the hon. Member for Kettering for giving us a chance to debate these issues today, and I am sorry that I am unable to support his Bill.

2.10 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Chloe Smith): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this debate and those who have spoken in it. By way of a preamble, you, Mr Deputy Speaker, may know that, like Kettering, my Norwich North constituency has a fine history of shoe factories, which sits alongside a history of manufacturing chocolate, mustard and many other fine products that Members are welcome to come and enjoy on their holidays.

The House will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make his autumn statement on Tuesday, so I will not set out the Government’s plans for the future in this debate. However, with that caveat, I will address—or attempt to address—the extensive points made by my hon. Friend and others, with reference to the principles for good taxation, tax simplification and transparency and, of course, the public finances and public spending.

In many ways, tax freedom day is an absolutely excellent idea. We all insist on knowing what we are paying for our goods and services, whether they be chocolates, shoes or anything else. Where we have ongoing payments, we adjust our direct debits so that we know what we owe and pay only that. Understanding the value of paying tax in some simple way should not be sniffed at. To quote the HMRC slogan—I cannot quite believe I am doing this on the Floor of the House—“Tax doesn’t have to be taxing”. Tax and our understanding of its value to the Government should be simple. None of us wants tax to be imposed sneakily, through the back door. We want tax to be proudly transparent.

There is a problem, however, which is that our lives are not that simple. If I paid only income tax, perhaps a basic “money in, money out” assessment could be made, but we have a variety of taxes in this country, which helps to maintain a balance for the individual and the

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state. Tax provides carrots for some activities and sticks for others. Talking of sticks, I suppose I should note what my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) said, which surprised me somewhat, because I am told that he told the Finance Public Bill Committee in 2010 that he was giving up. Perhaps he would like to confirm that—or not—in the remainder of this debate.


I beg my hon. Friend’s pardon.

Let me return to the more serious content of the debate. Tax rightly provides carrots and sticks, and people will experience taxation differently, depending on their circumstances and choices. For example, my personal tax freedom day may vary if I go out for dinner tonight or drive an extra 30 miles—my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) will remember what I said in a debate with him only a few days ago. If my daily income varies depending on my daily work, my personal tax freedom day might also be different. In summary, if, like some television personalities, I was a supercar-driving, spirit-consuming, cigar or cigarette-smoking, house-buying, asset-selling additional rate payer, I would experience an entirely different tax freedom day from many others.

If our intention is to bring about a better understanding of what happens to our income and how much tax we pay, let us try to do that by striving to improve the perception and interaction of our taxes. We need to be clear about what tax revenue does and about the value of the interaction between the individual and the state. These are complex issues, which sadly are not captured in the calculation of tax freedom day, as set out in the Bill.

Let me work through some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering and others. I applaud his championing of the great British taxpayer, and I absolutely applaud his drive for transparency. One strong point of the Bill is that it turns to the independence of the Office for National Statistics. At this point, Mr Deputy Speaker, you would expect me to underline the independence of the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, too, and the benefit it can bring to the way we look at taxation and public spending.

I have heard the point that national tax freedom day has moved by more than 30 days. I was extremely interested to hear the historical point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) who noted, if I recall correctly, that in 1900, it was 22 days —[Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend want to intervene?

Mr Nuttall: I do not have the figures with me, but I think the Minister is giving the figures for America. There was, however, a clear link between them and the figures for here, demonstrating that there has been a massive increase in the tax burden since the turn of the 20th century.

Miss Smith: I thank my hon. Friend for that clarification. I was briefly about to exercise my mental arithmetic by suggesting that while it was 22 days in 1900, it was 19 days in 1910, demonstrating that these figures, like all good things in life, can go down as well as up.

I particularly note the birth date of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering. May I briefly wish him a happy birthday—with, dare I say it, his 50th birthday

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falling only the year before the next general election? What a miserable time to have one of one’s major birthdays—in 2004 and 2014! We must do our best to give him a happier birthday in this place than he would otherwise look forward to.

My hon. Friend rightly pointed out that the Government have no money of their own. Taxation is not the Government’s money; it is never that. Taxation is people’s money pooled for the common good. That is my view of taxation. I should note that we spent a good deal of time earlier this morning talking about the value of society in debating the previous Bill. Margaret Thatcher spoke about there being “no such thing as society”, but only individuals. The current Prime Minister has moved the point forwards by saying that there is such a thing as society, but it is not the same as the state. I put myself in both those traditions and, I hope, alongside the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering in feeling myself to be on the side of people who work hard, want the Government off their backs and want to be left with as much money as possible in their pockets to spend according to their own choices.

I was interested to hear the debate about whether tax freedom day would be better under a Conservative or a Labour Government. I note that there might be a cricketing correlation here. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is a cricketing fan, as am I. He might be interested to think about the successes of the national side in 1981-82, when I regret to have heard tax freedom day might have been at its peak. He is interested in fours and sixes and not singles, so let us see what we can achieve now that England is once again at the top of the cricketing league. Let us hope that Britain is at the top of other leagues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley wishes, I think, to oblige the Government to make tax freedom day as early as possible. I note briefly that his comparison to the United States could be unfortunate, given that a number of American politicians have recently pledged never to increase taxes, which has led to some gridlock in the US political system. I am not sure that we would want to see that here, given the attendant impact on the credit rating of that great country.

Some interesting points of difference have emerged, which it would no doubt be delightful to iron out in Committee. One is about how we might celebrate tax freedom day: should we have a bank holiday or achieve it in some other way? An additional bank holiday will always impact on the economy. Many business people in my constituency and doubtless elsewhere express concern at the idea of having an extra bank holiday.

Philip Davies: Thanks to organisations such as the Adam Smith Institute, we are aware that tax freedom day this year is on 30 May. Does the Minister think she could get the combined brain power of the Treasury on to the case to work out when, if the Government were planning to collect enough in taxes during this year to finance all their spending, tax freedom day would fall?

Miss Smith: I am sure that the combined brains of the Treasury could make those calculations, but I regret to say that my brain, combined or otherwise, is not agile enough to engage in such mental arithmetic on the spot for my hon. Friend’s benefit.

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I think that learning of the existence of a “tax app” has enhanced all our lives today. I have only recently acquired a more sophisticated phone. I could not possibly reveal the brand name, but Members should note that I am now tweeting. They may wish to begin following my tweets, as no doubt others will.

As I have said, I noted what was said about taxation on items such as cigarettes and fuel.

Regional variation has been mentioned. My hon. Friends clearly do not want centralised uniformity in any shape or form, and I do not imagine that they would want taxpayers in London, by dint of legislation, to have to pay the same as taxpayers in Wales, or vice versa. I am sure that they support the Government’s actions in not only rebalancing the economy in the direction of a thriving private sector everywhere in the United Kingdom, but creating a thoroughly localist agenda to give people as much freedom locally as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley mentioned Belgium and Cyprus. He will be aware that Belgium has had no Government at all for the past 528 days. He might welcome that in principle, but regrettably I am not sure that the average Belgian punter does.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North took us for a canter through many different types of tax. He cited Twain, mention of whom, as a lover of literature myself, I always welcome in any debate. He also succeeded in teaching me about the crystal and glass industry—and perhaps you as well, Mr Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether you knew that the stems of some glasses are hollow, but I had no idea that that was the case. In the words of Abba, if I had a little money in a rich man’s world, I might know more about expensive glass and crystal.

Mr Bone: The Minister is making a delightful speech, but it has very little to do with what we are discussing today. It appears to me to be a filibuster, intended to prevent the Bill from securing a Committee stage. Is that what the Government are up to?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Had I heard a filibuster I would have stopped it, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

Miss Smith: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I had assumed that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) would appreciate a Minister’s taking the points made by Back Benchers seriously and dealing with them individually, which is what I am endeavouring to do.

Let me return to the subject of tax freedom day, as it is right for me to do in the remaining minutes that are available. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering invited me specifically to rebut four points. He felt that an aspersion had been cast on the methodology proposed in the Bill. The aspersion that I would cast is that there is no such thing as the average person. That is what chiefly concerns me about the calculation establishing when tax freedom day should fall: I do not believe that it would represent the average citizen in a meaningful way.

My hon. Friend asked me to deal with the way in which the proposed methodology does or does not regard or disregard public benefits. I am glad that he

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welcomes the fact that taxation has another side, namely what can be done with the money once it has been collected. I shall say more about that in a moment.

My hon. Friend also asked me to discuss whether tax freedom day had or had not varied very little in the last decade. I think that that has been covered by earlier remarks, and by the clarification offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North. The numbers do go up and down by small amounts. Like other Members, I have reservations about whether we should burden the Office for National Statistics with this further task—and, indeed, whether we should burden the Treasury, which, as Members will know, is one of the smaller Departments in terms of the number of people who work there. No doubt Members welcome that, and do not wish it to become any larger.

Philip Davies: Given that the Economic Secretary has made such great play of the burden this would impose on Government, will she tell us what estimate the Treasury has made of the increased costs the Government would incur by introducing this measure?

Miss Smith: Unfortunately, I do not have that figure to hand, but I will be happy to look into the matter.

As I suspect my hon. Friend has often argued, both small and large businesses find regulation burdensome, as do citizens. The Government have therefore endeavoured to reduce the amount of regulation, and I question the need for this measure as it is an extra piece of regulation. My hon. Friend also noted that as we can spend on Europe, we should be able to spend on this measure. I agree with his point: we all wish to keep firm control on what we spend in respect of the European Union.

In the March Budget, the Chancellor set out the Government’s principles of good taxation. Our taxes should be efficient and support growth. They should also be certain and predictable: they should be simple to understand and easy to comply with. The tax system should be fair, and should reward work, support aspiration and ask for the most from those who can afford it most. Those are the principles to which we are committed, and against which our tax system should be judged.

In trying to meet those principles, our taxes will necessarily become clearer, a goal to which we all aspire. In debating tax in general, its role in our economy and why the burden of taxation may be felt more keenly at certain times, we must bear in mind our current economic situation. Britain had endured the longest and deepest recession in living memory, we were borrowing £1 for every £4 we were spending, and we had the largest budget deficit in our peacetime history—one of the largest in Europe, and the largest in the G20—yet following the 2010 general election no detailed plan to deal with all that had been left in place by the previous Government.

That was not the end of the story. In the preceding decade Britain had slipped down the international league of competitiveness, falling from fourth to 12th. We had seen our share of world exports decline. We were considered to be a worse country in which to start a business than many of our European neighbours. That was this coalition Government’s inheritance.

We have therefore set about restoring confidence and stability to our economy, with a clear strategy for growth.

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At the heart of that strategy is a credible plan to tackle the enormous budget deficit, which we are already implementing.

One part of that plan is making changes to taxation. We must understand the changes this Government have made in order to see that a tax freedom day does not fully accord with what we want to achieve. For any taxation, we must, of course, make it clear why we are asking for a contribution, what we are doing in terms of public spending to balance changes in taxation, and why it is important to strengthen the public finances.

Growth is a key component of a strong economy; all parties agree on that. In the Budget we set out four economic ambitions: that Britain should have the most competitive tax system in the G20; that Britain should be the best place in Europe in which to start, finance and grow a business; that we should seek to be a more balanced economy by encouraging exports and investment; and that we should have a more educated work force, who should be the most flexible work force in Europe.

For the past decade Britain has been losing ground in the world economy. Other nations have reduced their business taxes further and faster, and some have removed barriers to enterprise, while ours have grown higher still. We cannot afford for that to continue.

Our plan for growth is based on private sector enterprise, not public sector borrowing. It is based on growing businesses, not growing debts, and on securing sustainable long-term investment. An essential aspect of that is creating a competitive tax system that enables our businesses to compete on the global stage and that gives value to businesses in ways that this Bill would struggle to measure.

Mr Hollobone claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36), but the Deputy Speaker withheld his assent and declined to put that Question.

Miss Smith: I shall briefly move on to something that will be of significant interest to hon. Members and to the businesses that I have just begun speaking about, which is modernising the administration of the personal tax system and creating proper tax transparency for individuals. I note that a fine document is being given out by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs at the moment. Hon. Members could encourage businesses and individuals in their constituencies to respond to it and help in the effort that we all want to see to improve the understanding of taxes—

2.30 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 20 January 2012.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Before we deal with the other Bills, may I ask the House to wait until the Clerk has read the name of the Bill and the mover has moved it? Will Members acting on behalf of another Member please state that they have permission? Members proposing a date must have the authority of the Member in charge of the Bill.

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Business without Debate

bbc licence fee payers (voting rights) bill

The Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household (Mr John Randall): I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2012.

parliament (amendment) bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (4 March), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 20 January 2012.

electoral law (amendment) bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 16 December.

apprenticeships and skills (public procurement contracts) bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2012.

gangmasters licensing (extension to construction industry) bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (3 December), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 20 January 2012 .

smoking in private vehicles bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2012.

children (access to parents) bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

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Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2012.

sunday trading (amendment) bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2012.

safe standing (football stadia) bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second ti me on Friday 20 January 2012.

common fisheries policy (withdrawal) bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 13 January 2012.

contaminated blood (support for infected and bereaved persons) bill [lords]

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2012.

house of commons disqualification (amendment) bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (9 September), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 13 January 2012.

live music bill [lords]

Bill read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).

building regulations (review) bill [lords]

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2012.

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Economic Growth (Waveney)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Newmark.)

2.35 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I am very pleased to have secured this debate. Its timing is particularly appropriate, coming as it does just before the Chancellor’s autumn statement on Tuesday.

The Waveney constituency is in north-east Suffolk and its main town, Lowestoft, is the most easterly point in Britain. Lowestoft has a proud history, and much of its heritage is based on fishing. Some 40 years ago it could be viewed as the model of how the economy in a coastal town should operate, with a diverse and prosperous economic base underpinned by fishing and its allied industries, the Richards and Brooke shipyards, the emerging oil and gas sector, food processing factories such as Birds Eye and Beechams, the Eastern Coach Works, the Co-op canning factory, the Boulton and Paul timber yard and the Pye television factory, as well as a flourishing tourism sector.

Gradually, over the years, those businesses have gone, though Birds Eye remains. Some people feel forgotten and neglected by the Government, but new businesses are arriving, many in the emerging energy sector, and there is a real desire across the whole of the Waveney district for them to succeed and for the area to play a full role in the economic recovery, creating jobs and helping rebalance the economy away from its over-reliance on financial services and London and the south-east. In many respects, Waveney is now at a crossroads. We can take the low road of limited aspirations and just trundle along or we can take the high road and be ambitious and a key player in working with the Government to deliver the growth strategy, creating jobs and helping Britain emerge from the most savage economic downturn for a generation.

Over the past 18 months, the coalition Government have laid the foundations on which the Waveney economy can grow. The deficit reduction strategy means that interest rates remain low, and although there is no such place as a safe harbour in today’s global economy, the Chancellor has steered Britain out of the eye of the storm. We should not forget that, last May, Britain was viewed by many as in the same category as Greece, Italy and Spain.

The New Anglia local economic partnership, formed at the beginning of the year and covering Norfolk and Suffolk, can play a key role in creating jobs across the two counties. The LEP has hit the ground running and is approaching its job in a targeted, pinpointed and coherent way, focusing on three areas: food production and processing; tourism; and, most importantly for Waveney, the energy sector, building on the opportunities along the coast from the gas terminal at Bacton, the oil and gas sector, the nuclear industry at Sizewell and offshore renewables. Lowestoft is at the centre of the world’s largest market for offshore wind energy, and the UK’s most dense area for offshore development is between the Humber, the Wash and the Thames estuary.

The LEP and the four councils—Waveney district council, Great Yarmouth borough council and Suffolk and Norfolk county councils—are to be congratulated on their successful enterprise zone bid for Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth, which is aimed at the energy

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sector. That can also play a crucial role in creating jobs. Also welcome is the creation of the Green investment bank, which will play an important role in leveraging in the large amount of private sector investment needed to transform our energy sector.

The Government’s ambition to provide superfast broadband across the UK by 2015 is also good news, with the granting of funding from Broadband Delivery UK to Suffolk county council to reach the “not spots”, many of which are in Waveney, whether on the south Lowestoft industrial estate or in the rural area around Bungay and Beccles where the market will not deliver on its own.

The Government’s emphasis on apprenticeships and skills is important, as there is a need to provide people in Waveney with the skills that energy businesses and those in their supply chains are looking for. Much has been done in the past 18 months, but with the problems in the eurozone, now is not the time to be resting on our laurels. We need to redouble our efforts and work overtime to ensure we do everything possible to create economic growth in Waveney.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): My hon. Friend and neighbour is making a very eloquent case for his constituents—there is no greater champion of Waveney than he. I share Waveney district council with him and our area is known for tourism, with Southwold. Will he pay tribute to the students and particularly to the teachers and supporting schools who help the North Suffolk skills centre in Halesworth, which does a lot to help people with vocational careers, especially in engineering?

Peter Aldous: I am very happy to do that. The North Suffolk skills centre, which serves the northern end of my hon. Friend’s constituency and much of mine, plays a vital role in giving people vocational training in engineering and other such skills.

As I was saying, the endgame is not the announcement of a policy—that is only the beginning. We need to be driving policies through and ensuring that they deliver what they are intended to achieve. There may be times when we need to take stock of a particular initiative and ask whether it is working and whether we need to be tackling the problem in a different way.

In the time remaining, I shall outline the areas in which I believe we need to redouble our efforts. As I have said, the Government are to be commended for their focus on skills and apprenticeships. In Waveney, that focus has already had positive results, with a provisional 810 apprenticeships having been delivered in the 2010-11 academic year—an increase of 48% on 2009-10. However, more needs to be done not only to provide businesses with the support they need but to work with business, Lowestoft college and the high schools, all of which are very much up for the challenge. The creation of guilds that concentrate on a particular industry such as energy could well be a way forward. We also need to tackle deep-rooted worklessness: in some places, there are three generations of families who have never worked.

If Waveney’s contribution to Britain’s economy is to be successful in the long term, our poor infrastructure links must be improved. In making small talk, the

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British talk about the weather, but East Anglians talk about roads and railways either because we do not have any or because those we do have are substandard. There are reasonable prospects for upgrading the railways to Waveney with the provision of funding for the Beccles loop, which will enable an hourly service to operate on the east Suffolk line. Longer franchises will provide opportunities for further improvements to the railways and I am working with Network Rail to ensure that everything is done to upgrade Lowestoft and Beccles stations, which are both in a shocking condition.

The road network provides a greater challenge. It is vital that regional links across East Anglia are improved and that the roads in Waveney are upgraded. The dualling of the A11 at Elvedon is good news and work needs to be done at the A14 bottleneck between Cambridge and Huntingdon. Locally, the Beccles southern relief road will open up further employment opportunities at Ellough and it is vital that the road system in Lowestoft is improved. I am working with Suffolk county council and Waveney district council to come up with a blueprint of the roads we need, which will include a new crossing of Lake Lothing, which divides the town. The enterprise zone challenge fund provides a means of promoting and building new roads. I issue a challenge to the Government: if we can demonstrate that jobs will flow if new roads are built, will they provide the money to do the work?

Let me address the issue of the 21st-century highway—broadband. As became apparent at the Suffolk broadband conference that I hosted in April, broadband is a huge enabler of economic growth. It will help the retention and growth of small businesses and will provide access to a global market. It will also help to raise and modernise skills and achievement levels. Broadband Delivery UK has made it clear that community engagement is the key to the roll-out of superfast broadband, very much in line with the big society and localism agendas.

The reference to the big society provides me with the opportunity for a short commercial break to congratulate the Beccles Lido on winning the Prime Minister’s big society award. In 2010, Beccles Lido bought the swimming pool from the local council, and has since raised over £300,000, carried out significant improvements and this year attracted nearly 30,000 visitors, up from 8,500 in 2008, turning a £60,000 loss into a profit. I congratulate the organisation on its great work and I wish it all the best with its new project, the public hall.

As I said before the interlude, community engagement with broadband is the right approach, as it is only local people who know what their communities need and the challenges they face. It appears that small local providers may be having difficulties in their attempts to provide services as part of local broadband plans. This is due to a combination of the sheer cost of procurement and other factors, such as European state aid rules and network security. I urge the Government to do all they can to resolve these issues so that we can ensure that the remote rural parts of the country, and Waveney in particular, from my viewpoint, have every opportunity possible of receiving next generation broadband.

Turning to the energy sector, there are encouraging signs. Orbis Energy in Lowestoft is a global centre of excellence for drawing together innovation and technology, supporting supply chain development and acting as a catalyst for development in the offshore renewables sector. SSE’s operations and maintenance base for the

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Greater Gabbard wind farm is already in Lowestoft port, and last month Scottish Power Renewables and Vattenfall signed a memorandum of understanding with both ABP Lowestoft and East Port in Great Yarmouth for the development of the East Anglia Array wind farm.

On Monday, SSE submitted its development consent order to the Infrastructure Planning Commission for the Galloper wind farm. It is vital that the planning process operates in a smooth and timely fashion, and also that the Government provide a clear, consistent and stable framework in which investors can operate, making long-term financial commitments in the offshore renewables sector. This means that there should be no sudden change in the fiscal regime, and electricity market reform must be addressed at an early stage in the next Session. It is important that the Government liaise with the industry now on this issue.

A particular feature of the East Anglian and Waveney economies is the large number of small businesses and SMEs, as well as a spirit of enterprise, which needs to be properly harnessed. In 2009, Lowestoft won the award for being the most enterprising place in Britain. More needs to be done to help small businesses set up and then flourish. That means, first, reducing red tape. I am conscious that the Government have already done much work in this area, though from what local businesses tell me they have yet to see the full benefits of that on the ground. Red tape is like Japanese knotweed—once it is there, it takes a superhuman effort to get rid of it.

Secondly, more work should be done with banks to ensure that they work with and support small businesses. The bid made by NWES and others, along with Barclays bank, to the regional growth fund for funding a national start-up programme, which will also operate in Waveney, will help to address that. Thirdly, it is important that in promoting business, Ministers do not just hold press conferences and stage PR announcements at high-profile showcase companies. It is important that they also visit smaller start-up and early-stage businesses so as to encourage entrepreneurship. So many people will be able to relate to and identify with such businesses and take inspiration from them.

I am fully aware of the impact of high fuel prices on small businesses and those travelling long distances to work. Waveney is out on a limb and, although the public transport network is gradually being improved, many have no choice but to use private transport. People in Waveney spend on average £68.09 a month on fuel, while those in the City of London, who have far higher incomes, spend on average only £26.93. I urge the Minister to reinforce the message to the Chancellor to cancel the fuel duty rise due in January.

In conclusion, in the summer of 2010, the CBI for the east of England launched its blueprint for growth. It highlighted a variety of factors: East Anglia is a world leader in many emerging sectors, including renewable energy; the east of England is forecast to create 400,000 new jobs by 2031; the area produces more entrepreneurs per head than the UK average, and the businesses they create survive longer; and £1 for every £5 of venture capital investment in the UK flows to east of England businesses.

My message to the Government is that if they work with us and invest alongside us, Waveney and East Anglia can play a pivotal role in promoting sustainable growth and creating new jobs. A good start has been

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made. We now need to deliver and to take that high road so that Lowestoft is again the model economy for a coastal town.

2.51 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing the debate and on a commanding speech that offered a comprehensive survey of all the key challenges facing his local economy. I am also delighted to see our hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) in her place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney said that everyone should work overtime to promote growth. It was clear from his speech that no Member of the House works harder, more persistently or more effectively to promote their local economy than he does. Indeed, it is worth reflecting on the contributions he has made during his short time in the House. He has had debates and questions on the fishing industry, which I know is close to his heart; the offshore renewables sector; local transport; strategic transport, whether rail or road; the local enterprise partnership and enterprise zones; planning; and economic development. In a short period he has become a persistent and eloquent advocate for all the needs of his area. His constituents in Waveney and residents in the local area should be proud of the service he gives them, in alliance with our hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal. They are very well represented in these matters. He also takes matters to the top, having questioned the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Business Secretary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney will know that many of the issues he has raised today will be responded to in the weeks ahead. We are all looking forward to the Chancellor’s autumn statement next week. There will be statements in the weeks ahead on some of the transport matters he referred to and many of the decisions that will be taken by the local enterprise partnership will be made in the coming weeks. He is absolutely right that we have put the groundwork in, and some of the decisions in the weeks and months ahead, which will increasingly be taken locally, will determine and shape the future success of the local economy. I know that his leadership, and that of our hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal, will mean that those opportunities will be taken keenly.

Let me say something about the context. Although Waveney is the eastern-most point of England and geographically distant from our motorway network—my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney has told me before that the nearest motorway to Lowestoft is in Holland—it is very much connected with the wider global and European economy. The overall context of the economy, of course, affects Suffolk as it affects everywhere else in the country, but the most essential building block of our economic future is fiscal discipline, which he acknowledged.

We inherited a situation in which our deficit was set to overtake that of Greece. We had a lack of fiscal responsibility which needed to be sorted out urgently, so the fundamental basis of our economic reforms is to secure the fiscal discipline that we need in this country. My hon. Friend knows that businesses in Suffolk and throughout the country regard that as essential to our economic credibility.

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I spent some time this week at the CBI conference, where there was not a single business representative who did not think that it was absolutely in our interest to cleave to the record of fiscal discipline that we have established in recent months—and absolutely essential to send to the rest of the world a signal that we are resolute in that. The situation affects us all.

I was struck by the comments this week of one of our leading businessmen, the managing director of the John Lewis Partnership, one of our most successful businesses, who, speaking in his capacity as the chairman of the Birmingham and Solihull local enterprise partnership, said that the Government get the idea that they must stick decisively to the deficit reduction strategy, which, in his personal view, he endorses.

That is typical of comments that the business sector generally has made, and the reason is that the strategy has an impact on interest rates, which are crucial to the investment decisions that need to be made over the months and years ahead. Despite the deficit that we inherited being of Greek-style proportions, interest rates in this country are more comparable to those enjoyed by Germany, and that is in very large part due to international investors’ confidence in the seriousness of our intentions.

Of all the contributions that the Government can make to the economy, and to making setting up and expanding businesses easier than it might be, the interest rate is crucial, because any investments are likely to involve borrowing and capital investment. It is important that we do not take for granted our environment of low interest rates; it is an important feature of our economic policy, and it is important that all our constituents and my hon. Friend’s local businesses understand that it follows from our fiscal demeanour.

There is an additional aspect, however. If we secure our fiscal discipline and have low interest rates, there is a major role for local leadership, which my hon. Friend exemplifies, because local economies, like local councils and local businesses, can be well run or badly run, and one thing that has been most impressive in Suffolk and, indeed, East Anglia over recent months is the flying start that the local enterprise partnership has made.

That LEP is particularly impressive, and it reflects the close work of some of the best businesses and the local authority leaders in the area. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney and for Suffolk Coastal and others throughout the region worked hard to bring together business leaders and councillors to ensure that the partnership was in place.

The LEP has also been particularly innovative in establishing an enterprise zone that crosses boundaries between not just districts, but counties, and the fact that the case was made so persuasively for such an unusual arrangement, linking into the great potential of that part of the world to secure investment in offshore renewables, underlines the progress that the partnership has made. I, through him, congratulate all members of the LEP on their work in recent months.

The benefits will begin to accrue very quickly. There is already the potential for investment to be made on the basis of the exemption from business rates that will be available in the area. It is estimated that by 2015,

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2,000 jobs will have been created in the enterprise zone. Many of the features that will be enjoyed by the local enterprise partnership can be made available elsewhere in his district. The Localism Act 2011, which received Royal Assent only last week, allows, for the first time, business rate discounts to be allocated by local authorities in a way that they consider to be in the best interests of their businesses. For example, they may be provided for new business start-ups, for businesses in a particular sector, or for businesses that are outside the enterprise zone but in an area that needs to be regenerated. I hope that there will be great flexibility and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney said, great encouragement to take up some of the new powers and freedoms that are available.

This also applies to planning powers. Of course, planning powers are vested in local authorities. Another feature of the Localism Act is to have swept away the regional spatial strategies, as well as the regional development agencies. Those strategies imposed on local people a form of administration that many had recognised as bureaucratic and did not reflect sufficient local knowledge and local interest. My hon. Friend made a comparison with Japanese knotweed regarding some of the regulation, bureaucracy and red tape that has emerged, and said that it should be uprooted. I would go further. We need to ensure that the bodies that promoted and created this red tape are finished once and for all—to cut the head off the snake to ensure that this cannot happen again. We have done that with the regional strategies and with many of the regional bodies.

The Government’s reforms make more powers available so that areas can benefit from economic growth locally. It has always struck me as ridiculous and counter-productive that if an area is led successfully by a local authority and encourages the location of businesses in that area, it shares scarcely at all in the economic benefits, which have all been spirited away to the Treasury. The reform of business rates that we are consulting on and intend to introduce very soon will provide a clear incentive and a sense of justice in that if an authority such as Waveney benefits from having success in attracting businesses, it should be able to keep some of the upside. That becomes a virtuous circle whereby knowing that some of the business rates can be retained allows investments to be made in anticipation of the economic effects, and that unlocks some of the infrastructure investment that my hon. Friend mentioned. If one adds to business rates reform the community infrastructure levy and the new homes bonus, one sees that there is a new ability for local authorities to invest proactively in, especially, infrastructure in their area.

My hon. Friend is right to say that there are challenges in the local area. One of the impressive features of the local enterprise partnership bid was that those challenges were very well addressed. He spoke eloquently about skills. His part of the world has underperformed, compared with some other parts of the country, in terms of skills at national vocational qualification level. It is absolutely right that he puts down a challenge to us in Government to ensure that his local enterprise partnership and his local authorities are given every assistance with raising the skills level in East Anglia, particularly in Lowestoft and Waveney. The new industries to which he refers are important in their demand for engineering skills. The commitment we can make to him is that they can invest for the long term.

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Waveney may be the most easterly point of the United Kingdom, but this, far from being a disadvantage, can be a positive advantage given that a lot of opportunities will be available in the North sea and on the continent. We need to capitalise on those opportunities. With the very well-led local enterprise partnership and the representation of exceptional Members of Parliament, I am greatly encouraged by the prospects for Lowestoft. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to do what he

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has done over his first 18 months in the House—keep us constantly up to date and on our mettle to ensure that we do everything we can for a very important part of the country.

Question put and agreed to.