National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No. 2) Bill

First Reading
19:44
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No.2) Bill

Second Reading
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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The reasoned amendment in the name of the Scottish National party leader has been selected.

14:08
Gareth Davies Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Gareth Davies)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

For the second time this year, we are cutting taxes for 29 million working people across the country—something that is particularly remarkable in the aftermath of the worst pandemic in 100 years, the worst war in mainland Europe since 1945, and the highest energy spike since the 1970s. The Government have had to take difficult decisions to restore the public finances, and those decisions are starting to pay off. Our economy is growing, and debt is forecast to reduce. Inflation is down significantly, unemployment is at near-record lows, and wages are rising. As the outlook improves, our priority is to return money to working taxpayers while keeping the public finances on track.

We believe that the tax system should be fair and simple, and should reward hard work, yet the way we tax people’s income is particularly unfair. People who get their income from having a job pay two types of tax: national insurance contributions and income tax. People who get it from other sources pay only one. The result is a complicated system that does not support work as best it could. For that reason, the Bill will build on the changes to national insurance contributions in the autumn statement.

The Bill contains two measures: a reduction in the NICs employee class 1 main rate, and a reduction in the NICs class 4 main rate. Both measures are important. Allowing working families to keep as much of their hard-earned money as possible is a priority for the Government. The Chancellor has always been clear that when we can cut taxes, we will.

Louie French Portrait Mr Louie French (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making a great speech, and I fully support the Government’s efforts to reduce the taxes of working people, alongside the pledge to increase the money going to pensioners through the triple lock. Does he agree that it is disgraceful that, while the Conservatives are working hard to cut taxes and help working people, Labour is increasing the share of council tax for all Londoners, and hitting drivers with charges of up to £12.50 per day thanks to the ultra low emission zone?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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My hon. Friend is consistent in holding the administration in London to account. He is right: as we are still not out of the woods when it comes to the cost of living crisis, the Conservative party has made it clear that we disagree with the Mayor of London’s approach of making motorists poorer.

As I said, building on the changes in the autumn statement, we will once again be supporting working families by reducing the main rate of employee class 1 NICs by two percentage points to 8% on earnings between £12,570 and £50,270 from 6 April 2024. That will cut taxes for over 27 million employees. The average worker on £35,400 a year will save £450 a year, and the majority will see the benefit in their payslips at the start of the new tax year. Taken together with the cuts to NICs in the autumn statement, this tax cut is worth some £900 a year to the average worker.

In addition, we are implementing a further reduction in the main rate of class 4 NICs for the self-employed. The Chancellor announced in the autumn statement that the main rate of class 4 will be reduced from 9% to 8% from 6 April. Today, we are cutting the rate by an additional two percentage points from 8% to 6% from April 2024. That is a total cut of three percentage points in just six months. Combined with the abolition of the requirement to pay class 2, which was announced in the autumn statement, that will save an average self-employed person £650 a year, and benefit over 2 million people across the country.

Together with the autumn statement cuts, this is an overall tax cut worth some £20 billion per year—the largest-ever cut to employee and self-employed national insurance. Because of the action that we have taken, the average earner in the UK now has the lowest effective personal tax rate since 1975. The Government are committed to tax cuts that reward and incentivise work and that grow our economy sustainably and boost productivity. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the national insurance cuts announced in the spring Budget will increase the total hours worked by the equivalent of almost 100,000 full-time workers by 2028-29. Because of the cuts, just over 30,000 people will move into work. These reductions in tax will drive more people to seek employment. This is our plan for a simpler, fairer tax system that makes work pay.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making a powerful Conservative speech about the importance of not just cutting tax but getting more people into work. Has the Department estimated how much more tax revenue will come in as a result of more people working because of these changes, so that we can show that lower taxes actually increase tax revenues for the Exchequer?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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My hon. Friend is right to point that out. A fundamental benefit of reducing tax is that it improves growth in our economy, because more people will be in work and working longer hours. That obviously generates more productivity for our economy, and ultimately more tax revenues for the Exchequer. It is a fundamental Conservative principle that we want lower taxes, and we are delivering that today because it is fiscally responsible to do so, and we are able to do so.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West) (Con)
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making such a powerful case for cutting taxes, a fundamental Conservative principle. The Bill will put £960 back into the pocket of the average worker in Southend, who earns £36,400, and will put £1,920 back into the pockets of a family in Southend with two people on the average wage. Does he agree that that is a considerable and welcome tax cut for hard-working people in Southend?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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My hon. Friend is right to point that out. I would add to those figures: since 2010, we have lifted millions of people across the country, including in Southend West, out of paying any tax at all by doubling the point at which people start paying tax in our country. People can now earn £1,000 a month without paying any tax, and that is a great achievement of a Conservative Government.

Although I welcome the fact that Labour Members will apparently vote for our tax cuts today, I hope that they will forgive me for sounding slightly sceptical about their sudden conversion to the cause of lower taxes for working people. While they do not oppose the measures, they also did not propose them. In fact, Labour has consistently voted against successive Conservative-led tax cuts between 2010 and 2021, which delivered a doubling of the personal allowance, as I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth). On the one hand, they bemoan the level of taxation, but cannot tell us a single tax that they propose to cut, or what the level of taxation would be under Labour. On the other hand, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), described our ambitions to remove unfairness in the tax system as “morally abhorrent”. Labour Members still cannot tell us how they will pay for their many spending commitments. They are completely all over the place. It is only the Conservatives who truly believe in reducing taxes on working people.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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The Minister is giving a clear explanation of why the Conservatives want to cut tax, and the economic benefits of cutting taxes for working people. He will know that the origins of national insurance were basically a form of social insurance: having paid national insurance, it would look after us later in life. The Labour party took the insurance out and put the socialism in, which is why we have ended up with a system that is essentially the same as income tax. As we think beyond today’s welcome cuts to what is in the Opposition new clause, has the Minister thought about using any further cuts to go into the compulsory savings of individuals introduced under the coalition Government after 2010—essentially building, in place of a dependency state, a savings state built on Conservative principles?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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Yet again my hon. Friend makes a valuable contribution. I commit to taking his idea away to consider, as we look at reducing the unfairness in the tax system in future and reducing national insurance contributions when it is prudent and responsible to do so.

The Labour party is completely all over the place on this. As a Conservative Government, we have delivered a clear message to the British people, and it is based on the delivery of the lowest personal taxation level since 1975. We have almost doubled the personal allowance, bringing the lowest earners out of paying any tax at all, and we have delivered a thriving jobs market, which is ultimately the best way to ensure that people are brought out of poverty.

Clive Lewis Portrait Clive Lewis (Norwich South) (Lab)
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I hope to speak a bit later on this. I may have a slight difference of opinion with the Minister on tax cutting, but I want to deal with the facts as I see them. He is making a great amount of noise about the tax-cutting vim and vigour that his party has had over the past 10, 20 or 30 years, or even longer than that—it is meant to be something that goes to the heart of the Conservative party—but according to the OECD, for every £1 generated in the UK, the Government collect 35.3p of it as tax. That figure is projected to keep on increasing to 37.7p by 2029, despite this 2% tax cut. Can the Minister explain how, if the Conservatives are the party of tax cuts, actual tax levels will in fact be going up, according to the OECD? How do the Government square that circle?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify that, because there has been a lot of noise from the Labour Benches, too. It is true that we have had to make some difficult decisions about overall taxation on the back of the pandemic, but today we are cutting taxes on work, because that is the way to grow our economy. As I said, we now have the lowest personal taxation level since 1975. Some taxes have gone up, absolutely—supported by the Labour party—as we have increased tobacco duty and other items, for example, but we are focused on ensuring that if people are in work and have a job, their tax level will be reduced. Today, that work of reducing tax on work continues. We are cutting taxes for millions of people across this country. That is why I commend the Bill to the House.

14:22
James Murray Portrait James Murray (Ealing North) (Lab/Co-op)
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Let me start by saying that the official Opposition will support the national insurance reductions before us. We have long said that the tax burden on working people is too high and should come down in a responsible way. In fact, when the now Prime Minster was pushing through a national insurance increase two years ago, we opposed it. Labour has consistently said that we want taxes on working people to be lower. Just as we supported the reductions in national insurance in January, we support the further measures announced in the Budget last week that are before us today.

The truth is, however, that neither the national insurance cuts nor anything else in the Budget changes the fact that people across Britain are worse off under the Conservatives. The Government are giving with one hand, but are taking far more with the other. Figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility show that for every £5 that working people will get back from the Government’s national insurance cuts, they will be losing a total of £10 thanks to the Conservatives’ tax plan. That tax plan will leave the average household £870 worse off and will drag 3.7 million more people into paying tax by 2028-29. Last week’s Budget confirms that, even after the changes we are considering today, the tax burden will continue to rise in each and every year of the forecast period, with the UK still set to have its highest tax burden in 70 years. That is the reality of Britain under the Conservatives, and that is why people across the country are saying it is time for change.

The national insurance reductions in the Bill were mentioned by the Chancellor toward the end of his Budget statement last Wednesday. The cuts had of course already been confirmed in the media by Government sources in the days before, so they came as no surprise. Many of us in the Chamber were wondering whether the Chancellor would follow the time-honoured tradition of ending his Budget by pulling an unexpected, and as yet unannounced, rabbit out of the hat. It turns out he did have a rabbit, but even after all the chaos of the Conservatives over the past few years, many of us could not quite believe what we were hearing: the Chancellor’s big pitch to the British people in the last Budget before the general election was a £46 billion unfunded tax plan.

As people across Britain continue to suffer the impact of the disastrous mini-Budget of 2022, the Conservative Chancellor announced that he would go into the general election with a plan to abolish national insurance, leave a £46 billion hole in the public finances, put family finances across the country at risk, and create huge uncertainty for pensioners. It is frankly the height of irresponsibility for the Chancellor to use the opportunity of last week’s Budget—an opportunity that should have been used to set out a long-term plan to grow the economy—to follow in the footsteps of his reckless predecessor with a £46 billion unfunded tax cut.

In fact, though, perhaps my comment is unfair to the Chancellor’s predecessor, because even he now seems to be critical of the current Chancellor’s approach. Yesterday, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) told the BBC’s “Politics Live” that he thinks the Chancellor should indeed spell out how he will pay for the abolition of national insurance. It is quite something when the Chancellor who crashed the economy after his disastrous mini-Budget publicly calls on the current Government to be more responsible.

The truth is that promises of unfunded tax cuts have nothing to do with growing the economy, and everything to do with propping up a weak Prime Minister who is desperately trying to survive in a divided Conservative party. This reckless behaviour shows that the Conservatives are blindly putting party first and country second. For the good of the economy and of the millions of hard-working people who are still paying the price for the disastrous mini-Budget, I urge Treasury Ministers when they respond finally to come clean about how they will pay for their £46 billion unfunded tax plan.

Over the past week, we have seen Ministers struggle with that question. The day after the Budget, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions implied that he did not feel the need to explain how the commitment would be funded as it was only “an aspiration”. On Sky News that day, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury seemed to think that the Conservatives do not need to explain how they will fund their promise as it may “take several Parliaments”.

The position of the Prime Minister and Chancellor is clear, however. In an email to his party members on Budget day, the Chancellor confirmed that abolishing national insurance would be a priority for the next Parliament, if the Conservatives win. The next day, he suggested that that could be achieved by merging national insurance into income tax, a move that raises the prospect of a huge tax hike for pensioners. On the Saturday after the Budget, the Prime Minister confirmed again that abolishing national insurance would be a priority for the Conservatives in the next Parliament, if they are still in Government.

Let us be clear: this is a £46 billion unfunded tax plan. It is a plan that comes from the top of the Conservative party about what they would do in the next Parliament. It comes straight out of the same playbook as the Conservatives’ disastrous mini-Budget that crashed the economy. This unfunded plan is yet more chaos and recklessness from the Conservatives. Only Labour will bring stability and security back to the British economy.

If Treasury Ministers disagree that their party is the reckless party, they can clear this up today by explaining how they will pay for their £46 billion tax cut. Will it be funded by higher income tax? Will it be funded by cuts to public services? Will they push up borrowing? The Conservatives’ unfunded tax plan blows a £46 billion hole in funding earmarked for the state pension and the NHS. They need to come clean today about what that means for people’s tax bills, pensions and public services.

To be fair, the Chancellor has at least hinted how he thinks that the Conservatives could pay for the abolition of national insurance: his proposal to merge national insurance with income tax. Of course, taking that route and replacing the revenue from employee and self-employed national insurance contributions with greater basic and higher rates of income tax would mean rates of income tax going up by 6.5%. That would hit all income tax payers and cause particular alarm for pensioners. Under the Chancellor’s planned merger, pensioners—who do not currently pay national insurance—could see an average tax hike of about £800 each. A retired pensioner with an income of £25,000 from a mix of private and state pension paying an extra 6.5% on their income above the personal allowance would see their income tax bill rise by more than £800.

Furthermore, national insurance contributions are what determine people’s entitlement to the basic state pension. The Conservatives’ plan to abolish national insurance in the next Parliament would sever the link between contributions and pension entitlement. Will the Minister explain, under their plan to abolish national insurance, how people will know what their future entitlement to the state pension will be? What would be the basis for state pension entitlement without employee national insurance contributions? Does their plan mean the end of the state pension as we know it? I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to give clear answers to all those questions, or else confirm that the Conservatives have dropped their unfunded plan to abolish national insurance altogether.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford
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I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman. He comes from a professional background, and, compared with most people on the Labour Benches, normally knows what he is talking about. However, I want to follow his logic when it comes to what he claims is a reckless potential abolition of national insurance. If abolishing all national insurance is reckless and will lead to the country going to hell in a handcart, as he so wants to portray it, why is Labour not opposing a reduction in national insurance? Surely, if he does not oppose a reduction in national insurance, his argument completely falls down, because that means that national insurance can be got rid of.

James Murray Portrait James Murray
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I thank the hon. Member for his intervention—I think. He misses the point. The commitment by the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and, I think, the Treasury Ministers, although they seem to oscillate a little in their position, is to get rid of national insurance entirely—to abolish it at a cost of £46 billion—but they are refusing to say how that would be funded. We saw what happened in autumn 2022 when unfunded tax cuts were proposed by the Conservative Government: it crashed the economy and pushed up people’s mortgages and rents. That is the risk of the Conservatives to the British people, that is the risk to the economy, and that is why we need a general election.

If the Conservatives want to move on from this discussion, they should give assurances on the matter when they respond to the debate. If they do not give those assurances and are not able to distance themselves and rule out their plan to abolish national insurance, we will know that they have essentially given up on governing, are incapable of acting responsibly, and are putting their party before the country with their reckless plans.

As I said at the start of my speech, we will support the Bill because, after 14 years of the Conservatives and 25 tax rises in this Parliament alone, the tax burden on working people is too high. Labour wants the tax burden on working people to come down in an economically and fiscally responsible way. However, let us be clear about the context of this Bill and the changes it makes to national insurance. Even with the Bill’s national insurance cuts in place, households across Britain are set to be an average of £870 worse off as a result of the Conservatives’ tax plans, and the tax burden in the UK is still set to rise to its highest in 70 years.

To make people better off and support public services, we need a plan to get the economy growing. We needed last week a Budget with a long-term plan to bring about growth and help to rebuild our public services. That is what the country needs, and that is what Labour is offering with our plan to grow the economy through stability, investment and reform. That is not what we saw last week, however. According to the British Retail Consortium, the Chancellor did

“little to promote growth and investment”.

The British Chambers of Commerce said this morning:

“the UK stills lacks a clear industrial strategy to unlock long-term growth.”

Faced with a record tax burden, failing public services and no plan for growth, we see the Conservatives grasping desperately for positive headlines by announcing a reckless, irresponsible and unfunded £46 billion tax plan.

I wonder whether the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), approves of this plan. Maybe she feels outdone, with this unfunded tax plan coming in at £1 billion more than hers. Either way, the conclusion is clear: chaos and recklessness are the currency of the Conservatives. Only Labour will bring stability, security and responsibility back to the economy, and only a general election will give the British people the chance to vote for change.

14:33
Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
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There is quite a lot to say after the contributions from both Front Benchers, which I will come to in a minute. I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I support the reduction in the rate of national insurance. I will use my time to discuss longer-term tax reforms that should be introduced.

Before I speak to the cuts and changes to national insurance that are the basis of this important Bill, I will, if I may, make some observations on the debate thus far having heard both Front Benchers. This is a very serious issue; we are speaking about fiscal matters that affect all our constituents across the United Kingdom, at a time when we should be really honest with the British people. We should level with them: taxes have gone up. I do not think that they want to hear trivial arguments from this House about who is outscoring whom. A degree of maturity is needed right now, because these have been difficult times, post-pandemic and off the back of Russia-Ukraine and everything that has followed. We need to look at what is being proposed in a constructive way. The irony of today’s debate—I will touch on wider public spending—is that tomorrow we will be here talking about estimates. Given the book and the numbers that I have gone through this morning, a lot more can be done to ensure that Government spending is much more efficient, but we will save discussion that for tomorrow.

This is an important Bill. It follows clearly the decisions that previous Conservative Chancellors have taken to reduce the taxes taken from national insurance. Members who review the details of successive Budgets since May 2010 will note that the Government have progressively reduced the national insurance tax burden in recent years—Members may recall that the employee threshold level was £5,725 back in 2010, so that has been the trend. Two years ago, the increase in the primary threshold jumped from £9,568 to align with the tax-free threshold—with which I like to think we in this House are all familiar—of £12,570 in 2022-23. That 2022 change alone has already put around £330 per person back into the pockets of hard-working families. The changes at the autumn statement—which, if I remember rightly, were well debated on the Conservative side of the House, while the Opposition were a little absent—meant that average earners would be around £900 better off.

Alongside that, I also welcome the reduction in NICs for those who are self-employed. As an Essex MP, the majority of my constituents are self-employed. Over 80% of my constituents work in self-employed small and medium-sized firms. Those who are self-employed and pay class 4 contributions, including many of my constituents, make a huge contribution to our economy. We should reflect on that. More always needs to be done—that is fact—to grow the economy, on supply-side reforms, and to stimulate employment, but the measure is huge for those people because it gives them security in employment, and that is a fundamental principle that we should all work to. It is a big difference and tax cut.

The impact of raising the income tax-free threshold from the £6,475 in 2010 to £12,570 today was significant because it was worth over £1,000, or 20% of the £6,095 increase. The £900 average from the cuts to national insurance in the last two fiscal events is significant. We should all recognise what that means not just for the economy but for the money in people’s pockets. Those measures will have helped taxpayers to keep around £2,400 more of the money they earn. Let me be frank: that is not just good; it is valued and welcome. As colleagues have already touched on, those are timeless Conservative values that fulfil our mission to deliver economic freedoms and lower taxes, notwithstanding the tax backdrop of recent years.

I listened to the Labour Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray), and I always welcome his contributions and enjoy our debates. Our approach to national insurance and easing the burden contrasts with what we saw under the previous Labour Governments, when we saw increases. We need to work collectively to be on the side of hard-pressed families right now. That is absolutely crucial. I could go back to the Budgets of Gordon Brown and list some of the calamities that took place, but what is the point? We have to speak about the fiscal—[Interruption.] No, we have to speak about the fiscal footprint that we have now, about the Budget resolutions that we voted on last night, and about this Bill in particular. It is really important that we stand by our record, our commitment to lowering taxes on income, and our ambition to go further.

This will be a debate—I have no doubt about that. I have stood in this Chamber before saying that we should go further on tax reforms, and I believe that. I have even suggested previously that we look at merging NI and income tax, and previous Conservative Governments have looked at that as well. As all Members know, including Opposition Front Benchers, it is not straightforward; it is complicated, and some of the points that have been raised today indicate why. However, I believe that we have to continue on this pathway. Without recapping the Budget debate that we have had in recent days, it contains important fiscal measures that mean that the public will be better off, including the fuel freeze, but the direction of travel is also important. Treasury Front Benchers hear a lot from me and other Members about this issue, and I know they would like to go further in reducing the tax burden. They know my personal views on public spending, which I believe is far too high right now and needs addressing, but we also need to think about long-term reform.

If I may, I will touch on the ambition expressed by the Chancellor to end the double taxation on jobs, and the suggestion that national insurance is either phased out or subject to reform. I have been a long-standing campaigner for lower and simplified taxes, and I am on the record as having even looked in the past at a merger. George Osborne looked at that during his chancellorship, as did the Office of Tax Simplification—that is well documented and on the record. Although those plans were not taken forward because of the complexities I have touched on, it is important that those debates continue, because we need to simplify our tax system in this country. As Conservatives, we must always look to do that; we must always stand up for not just lower taxes, but simplifying the tax system. I say that as the new tax year is due to begin, with people still getting letters from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. For businesses in particular, the burdens that they face and the complexities involved in tax returns are mind-blowing.

Both national insurance and income tax are taxes on income, and the thresholds at which they are both paid are now aligned at £12,500 per year. That is something that we need to look at—I have made that point before. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) touched on the contributory principle of national insurance as set out in the National Insurance Act 1911 and further measures following the second world war. Those measures were brought in to support health and medical benefits and unemployment benefits, and the receipts raised are paid into the national insurance fund investment account. That distinction in the way that national insurance is raised and dealt with, compared with other taxes—which end up in the consolidated fund—has stood the test of time. I think all Treasury Ministers, those on the Front Bench today and others, recognise that. That distinction is ingrained in the fabric of our tax system and the thoughts of many of our constituents.

We are now starting the debate about lower taxes and how we can simplify the tax system, and I genuinely believe that this is an important Bill. It is a very important signal in terms of supporting the self-employed and hard-pressed families around the country, and the Government’s direction of travel is very welcome. Through this debate, we are starting to provide a clear, distinct Conservative way forward and Conservative approach. We have had debates over the past week about high-tax, high-spending policies; those debates and discussions are not going to go away. Public spending is over £1.2 trillion. We have to be mature in the debates we have in this House, and about how as a Government we prioritise public investment but spend taxpayers’ money wisely. I am pleased that this Bill has been brought forward, and I hope it will start a positive direction of travel when it comes to reducing the overall tax burden on hard-pressed families.

14:43
Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
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I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:

“this House declines to give a Second Reading to the National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No. 2) Bill because, while acknowledging that the measures in the Bill reduce the National Insurance Contributions (NIC) burden on some employees, it considers the Government should prioritise investment in public services spending over yet more cuts in spending which would be the result of lowering tax revenue by reducing NIC rates.”

The amendment stands in the name of my group leader, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn); my colleague on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry); and myself and other SNP Members.

The Bill is the wrong measure at the wrong time. We are quite comfortable having clear water between us and the Conservatives. When it comes to tax, they have a different ethos and ideology from ours. What is distressing, though, is the fact that the Labour party seems wedded to some of the fiscal rules and public sector cuts that the Tories have introduced. In fact, it is difficult to see a significant difference between the two parties at this point, whereas SNP Members are making a clear statement that we do not agree with this measure. We do not think it is the right time to introduce it, and we think the focus should be on public services.

The national insurance cuts will have a disproportionately positive impact on higher earners and a disproportionately negative impact on lower earners. Lower earners, higher earners, middle earners and non-earners are all able to benefit from access to universal public services. They are able to benefit from accessing an NHS that is free at the point of use—in Scotland, that is, not in England, where people have to pay prescription charges. They are able to benefit from their children being able to go to schools and get educated, from colleges, from mental health services, and from potholes being filled and bins being emptied. Everybody can benefit from all of those things; those public services are universal. Cuts in public services and continued austerity mean that the lowest earners and those who are not earning lose out the most, because those public services mean more to them than they do to people who are earning £120,000 a year. There have already been 300,000 excess deaths in the UK from austerity—this cannot continue.

To give an illustration, the national insurance cut means that a band 2 NHS staff member will pay £343 less in national insurance next year than they did this year. For an MP, the national insurance cut is worth £1,320, nearly four times what that NHS staff member will get. For someone earning £11.44 an hour and working 20 hours a week, the national insurance cut means nothing—they do not benefit from that cut at all. It is almost the least progressive measure that the Government could have taken at this point. It also does not impact pensioners: they do not pay national insurance, so none of them will gain from this cut.

In Scotland, we are doing what we can to protect people’s incomes through a council tax freeze, whereas the UK Government are allowing a council tax hike. Someone who lives in Lancashire will pay £79 extra on their council tax next year; someone who lives in North Tyneside will pay £92.37 extra. That is not to mention the water rates, which are significantly different in England from what they are in Scotland.

It is not just us in the SNP who are saying this. I want to contribute several quotes from various organisations about the Chancellor’s budget, the ruin in public services that will result from it, and its disproportionate impact. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

“Last year nearly 4 million people in the UK experienced destitution, including 1 million children. The number of people experiencing destitution has more than doubled in the last 5 years. A 2p cut in National Insurance will not help those who need it the most”.

Miatta Fahnbulleh, former chief executive of the New Economics Foundation, said:

“Key take away from #Budget24. Household incomes won’t recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2025. An entire Parliament where incomes will not have grown. That’s @RishiSunak’s record right there.”

Harry Quilter-Pinner, director of research and engagement at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said that this was a

“‘slash and crash’ budget that prioritised tax cuts now at the expense of crashing public services and investment in the future. This isn’t economically desirable, fiscally credible nor politically popular.”

Rachael Henry, head of advocacy and policy at Tax Justice UK, said:

“We have the sugar rush of tax cuts now that will be paid for by deep public spending cuts to come.”

Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society, said:

“High earning households will be up to £1,500 a year better off after two rounds of National Insurance cuts and the wealthy will see sizeable tax cuts on profits from property sales and ISA investments. Meanwhile low earners gain little or nothing from the tax changes, and many of the poorest will actually see their incomes drop with the scrapping of cost of living payments.”

Chris Thomas from the IPPR said:

“As of Autumn statement 2022, the government expected NHS revenue spending to be £180.4bn in 2024-5 and capital to be £12.6bn. For all the talk of NHS investment by CX just now, the Spring Budget 2024 expects equivalent figures to be £179.6 and £12.6bn”.

That is less—less money for the NHS than was announced in the autumn statement.

Victoria Benson, the chief executive of Gingerbread, said that

“we urgently need to see an uplift to Universal Credit to protect those on low incomes who have been struggling for too long”.

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said:

“This was a Budget all but blind to buckling family budgets and broken public services and will leave a legacy of crumbling classrooms, cold homes, and empty tummies.”

Lastly, and most damningly, the Samaritans said:

“The Government has chosen to waste another opportunity to save lives today.”

In Scotland, we prioritise public services. In the SNP, we prioritise public services. Per 1,000 people in Scotland, we have 8.4 nurses or midwives, while England has only 6.3 nurses or midwives. Our nurses are also paid more than they would earn in England in an equivalent band, and those earning under £28,000 a year are taxed less than they would be if they lived in England. In NHS Scotland, we have 28.9 wholetime equivalent staff per 1,000 of the population, but NHS England has only 22.9 staff. We have put in place the baby box, which is a universal gift to new parents to provide extra support for their children. We have the Scottish child payment, which has kept 100,000 kids out of poverty. We have free buses for under-22s, eligible disabled people and the over-60s, and we have P1-5 free school meals.

What happened to those who are just about managing? This Government have done amazing things for them: they have managed to massively increase the number of people who are just about managing; and they have managed to tip so many people from just about managing into absolutely not managing and living in desperation. People want their bins to be collected, their potholes to be filled, their children to be educated and their NHS to be available when they need it. They want all these services to be available to them. The cuts that the Tories are making to public services will damage even further the society we are living in. People will lose the very little support measures that they have left, and I absolutely condemn this decision and this Bill.

14:53
John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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I have declared my business interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I welcome the reduction in the tax on jobs. The level of overall taxation in our country is too high. The reason it is so high is primarily the huge expenditure the country, by general agreement, incurred to tackle the covid lockdown. This is why I find the Opposition’s criticism of this Government’s tax record so difficult to grasp. After all, they wanted us to lock down tougher and they wanted us to lock down for longer. While a lot of money was rightly offered by this Government to individuals and companies to replace their lost incomes —colossal expenditure on a scale we have never seen before—Labour wanted to spend more on those causes, as well as wanting the lockdown to go on for so much longer.

What we demonstrated was that if we lock down a country for a year or more, stop a very large number of people earning their livings or livelihoods at all, and close down a large number of companies for the duration and maybe for longer, it is an extremely costly process. Of course, we needed to offset that to prevent a complete collapse in the economy and to sustain some lifestyles for those who otherwise would have no income. So we as a nation have this burden of extra expenditure, which we are now having to tackle by tax levels that are higher than we like.

We are at this very important point where the higher taxes are all in place—some of them are doing their job, and some of them will disappoint because higher tax rates do not always deliver the extra revenue that Treasury and OBR planners seem to think they will—and the Government are rightly saying, from the autumn statement through this Budget and on to future fiscal events, as they are now called, that we want to get back to getting the level of taxation and the burden of the rates down. It does not mean that we want to reduce the amount of taxation—indeed, the Government, understandably, want to collect a lot more taxation, as do the Opposition—but the fundamental policy debate is about how best to do that, and it is surely right that we are going to have a more prosperous economy and more public expenditure can be afforded if we have tax levels that promote growth, particularly if we reduce the taxation that is otherwise a big burden on work, on enterprise and innovation, and on small companies and the self-employed.

I am delighted that the self-employed have been included in the national insurance cuts in both the autumn statement and this Budget, but I still think the Government need to reform or push back the changes they made to IR35. We have lost 800,000 self-employed over the covid period. Some of that is because of the damage the covid lockdown has done, but some of it is deliberate tax policy in telling people that they cannot be self-employed, or so undermining the credibility of their status as self-employed in the eyes of others that they do not get the contracts they used to get from businesses that are nervous about the tax issue.

I urge my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to find time to look again at the second part of the self-employment package. I welcome the national insurance part, but I think we need to look at IR35, because we need that extra capacity. It would be good to get back some or all of those 800,000, and to add many new ones—younger ones—to that crucial army, because I am sure all Members in the House, being honest, would agree that the self-employed make such a valuable contribution in our constituencies.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
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Does my right hon. Friend share my view that over the decades we have seen such a fall or drop-off in individuals starting their own business, younger people in particular, because of these concerns about the tax burden, how regulated it is and how difficult it is? By dealing with the whole long-standing issue of IR35, we could open up a new marketplace and encourage a new generation of entrepreneurs and small business leaders to come in and really help to grow the economy.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
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I largely agree with my right hon. Friend, but if we look at the numbers, I think the fall-off was from 2020 to 2024. Prior to that, with good Conservative policies and lower taxes, we were growing the self-employed army very noticeably, and it was making a very important contribution to general growth and the way all our local communities are serviced. It is so often self-employed people who allow us to make personal contact in a way that large companies do not seem to want any more. They are the people who turn up in the evening or at the weekend, if necessary, to get work done, and they are the people who wrestle with the increasingly impossible streets created by Labour and Liberal Democrat councils, which make it more difficult for them to get their vans around.

Clive Lewis Portrait Clive Lewis
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Does the right hon. Member not understand that perhaps the other reason for the decline in the self-employed and small and medium-sized enterprises is the growth of large businesses or large corporations that push them out of the marketplace and that monopolise and dominate? That is a big part of it, and it is a massive part of how our economy has developed over the last 30 or 40 years.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
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No, I do not think that is the main point. I think the two main points are the ones I have made—the covid lockdown and the tax regime affecting the ability to set oneself up. I will meet the hon. Member a little of the way, because I do think that the 2021 reforms in particular put companies off dealing with the self-employed, and the self-employed often need business from other companies, as well as directly from the public, and that has been a problem. If he and his party are seriously interested, they should look at the 2017 and 2021 reforms, which I think they supported, to understand how they have backfired. That is a good example of the OBR and the Treasury thinking that they can get more money out of the self-employed by forcing more of them to be employed but ending up with a far less successful economy with far fewer people working.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
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It is an absolute pleasure to listen to my right hon. Friend. I want to reinforce his point about IR35 so that our colleagues on the Government Front Bench are clear about how important this is. He talked about how Labour in the past supported those measures, but does he share my concern that perhaps Labour has now recognised that those changes to IR35 have backfired and that it would be disastrous for the Conservative party to go into the next election not having made those changes while the Labour party is offering to do so?

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
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I will not join my hon. Friend in suggesting that it could be disastrous to go into the election—I hope that, when we get to the election, it will be looking rather better. But I do agree that it would be great to have sorted out the IR35 taxation mess before we get to the election—after all, there could still be many months of happy Conservative Government ahead if that is the Government’s wish—as that would be a much better outcome. Failing that, it would be good to put it in the manifesto, but the self-employed would be quite right to say to the Conservatives, “If you have now got to the point of putting it in the manifesto because you think it needs changing, why didn’t you just fix it?”

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth
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My right hon. Friend is making a brilliant speech. He is talking about the self-employed, and in Southend and Leigh-on-Sea more than 98% of my businesses are small or medium-sized—in fact, the vast majority are micro. Does he, like me, welcome the raising of the VAT threshold in the Budget? Does he think that over time it would be welcome to continue moving that threshold, which is such a brake on the growth of small businesses? It is a brilliant thing that we have done, but could we take that further?

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
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My first request of Chancellors in recent Budgets has been that there should be a sizeable increase in the VAT threshold. I opened the bidding at taking it up to £250,000, because I think we should want get on with these things, and we should want to allow the self-employed to take on their first one or two employees and get their business to a certain scale before this colossal bureaucratic burden comes down upon them. I have not yet persuaded my hon. Friends in the Treasury. I am pleased that Chancellors have moved from saying, “No, we don’t want to do that at all,” to saying, “It can now be done.” But if the Government are to do it, they should get on with it, mean it, and look as if it is going to make a real impact.

Five thousand pounds is not much. Lots of people get their business to around £75,000 to £80,000—I have met them in my constituency, as I am sure have most Members in theirs—and then they say, “I’ll have a month off,” or, “I’ll close the B&B for more of the off-season period,” or, “I won’t take on any more contracts, because I really don’t want all that hassle.” They will say, “I’m just a self-employed plumber”—or caterer or whatever—“and I’m good at what I do. I don’t want to become a VAT expert and I don’t want to have to spend a fortune on consultants to take me through this rigmarole of trying to keep the books straight on VAT.” I think we would benefit greatly from allowing that flexibility. The Bill helps, because it does reduce self-employed national insurance costs, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) said, it would be much greater if we dealt with the VAT threshold at the same time.

I would like to extend the conversation, which the Opposition clearly want to have and the Government need to respond to, about affordable and unaffordable tax cuts. First, I note that the Opposition dub all tax cuts—apart from the odd one they vote for—as unaffordable, whereas any amount of public spending is affordable. That is a strange asymmetry. The truth is that the Budget deficit is a combination of increased spending and reduced taxation, and one needs to look at both sides, which should be treated similarly.

The other thing that the Opposition must understand, from listening carefully to Ministers, is that getting rid of all national insurance employee contributions is just an idea; it is not a pledge and it is not a policy. It is clearly not baked into the next five years of figures. We have the Government’s five-year financial plan in the Budget, which sets out in general terms what the levels of tax revenue and overall spending will be—we await more detail for future years on spending from the public spending review in due course—and we know what the current feeling is on taxation, because we are just voting that through at the moment, based on the Budget. We know that future Budgets will make changes to taxes.

I am sure that Conservative Budgets will make reductions in taxes—assuming continuity of Conservative Government—but the Government are not promising to take off all this national insurance in one go, or indeed to make any particular change to national insurance next year or the year after. That is the right position to be in. However, given that there is plenty of time to think this through—it is not urgent policy—I urge my hon. Friends in the Treasury to set out more of the consideration than the arguments before coming up with a firm pledge or a timetable for implementing a tax cut that they want.

We do need to begin with the contributory principle, which is still the main feature of the national insurance fund as we have it today, relating almost entirely to the state retirement pension. The old contributory benefits for unemployment and sickness have been largely removed from the national insurance fund—there are only residual, small amounts left—and now come out of general taxation and are voted on in the normal way. The contributory fund is primarily for the pension, which is reflected in the fact that everyone in receipt of a state retirement pension—or in expectation of one when they get to the relevant age—will have their pension based on their contribution record.

It is also true that Parliament over the years has amended how one qualifies for those contribution records—in some circumstances one can be at home and qualify for deemed contribution, which is all good and fair—but it is still very much a contribution-based system. If we suddenly went away from such a system, we would need to answer the question: how do we settle eligibility for state pension? Many of my constituents would not think it a good idea if we invited in migrant workers in their 60s to do two or three years’ work here, having settled here quite legally, and then said, “You can have a full state pension.” They would feel that was not quite what people had in mind, because all previous generations have had to be here and work for many years to gain that entitlement. So there would be issues of fairness.

If the Government’s proposition is only that they would quite like to get rid of all employee contributions, I suppose we could keep the contributory principle by proxy, because people would have an employer contribution record, which I guess modern computers could divulge in a form that made a proxy for the eligibility of that person for a pension. However, it would still leave a hole in the national insurance accounts, because with just employer revenue we would have less national insurance revenue coming in than pension going out, so there would need to be technical adjustments or the abolition of the fund and some other reassurance mechanism that people would get their entitlements for the state pension, however those new entitlements were calculated.

This is a complicated area. I have been around this policy area on several occasions in the past for various leaders, Chancellors and shadow Chancellors, and I have always concluded that it would not be a good idea to try to merge the whole of the national insurance taxation system with the whole of the income tax system. I still think there is some merit in keeping the contributory principle. It now mainly relates to the pension, which is probably what one settles for, given how much other benefits have gone up and how one could not put all that extra burden on additional national insurance contributions.

I therefore urge the Government to ask themselves questions about the timetable, affordability, wisdom and, above all, what they wish to do with the national insurance system as a whole, the contributory principle—which still means a lot, particularly to older users of the system—and what a more modern system might look like. That is Green Paper and policy discussion territory, and it is invited as part of this debate because the Opposition have tabled amendments to try to tease some of these matters out. We cannot settle this today, however; we need a lot of documentation and research to update some of the numbers and complexities, which I remember poring over in the past, so we can see how this might work.

So, it is good news that we are getting a tax cut, and good news that we can have some more tax cuts to come, but I ask the Government please not only to think about cutting national insurance, on which they have done a big and a good job, but to think about some of the other taxes, such as the VAT threshold and IR35, and such as taxes on energy where we are still completely uncompetitive in this country because energy taxation is so high, relative to China and the United States of America, let alone relative to our European competitors—they tend to have higher energy prices but we are still uncompetitive against them.

So we need to look at all of that, and when we are looking at future Budgets we need to work away at finding more headroom. I am very pleased that this national insurance cut is effectively allowed under Office for Budget Responsibility rules because the Government have seized the initiative on the productivity decline, which has been very sizeable over the covid period in the public services, and the Government are putting back around £20 billion of lost productivity in future years. That is a modest target given the scale of the decline, and it is another reason why the public finances have been thrown into disarray by covid: we did not merely have all the extra costs during the covid period, but we now have ongoing considerable extra cost to run our public services because we cannot even get them back up to the levels of productivity they had hit in 2019 before the covid crisis. We need to look at other ways of finding headroom. Productivity is a good mine for finding headroom so we can improve the quality and cut the cost of what we deliver in the public sector.

I still think the Bank of England should be stopped from selling its colossal bond portfolio at huge losses and sending the bill to the taxpayer. That is unsupportable and the fact that taxpayers and the Treasury have had to find £34 billion year to date to cover the whole range of Bank of England losses, which include capital losses on the bonds, is a sign of how out of control this is. We need to stop that kind of thing. It would also be very helpful in getting us out of this technical recession, because the monetary policy has shifted from being massively too expansionary and inflationary, as it was during the covid period, when some of us warned about the way the Bank carried on for too long with printing money and buying bonds. I was very happy with the first tranches because it was essential to offset, but the last tranche was over the top. The Bank has now lurched to being too tough and has therefore created a technical recession that we need not have had, and if it stopped quantitative tightening bond sales, that would start to ease the markets up a bit more and allow us to grow a bit more rapidly and therefore generate more tax revenue.

So I hope there is some food for thought here for the Government when they look at their progress so far. The national insurance cuts are good, but they should study the overall reform rather more carefully and think it through and not make it the only kind of tax cuts in the future. There are other tax cuts now that are more urgent and that would grow the economy more quickly, and they would be targeted rather more on enabling more people to work for themselves and more small businesses to grow, and on us having more capacity, particularly in high energy using areas.

15:13
Clive Lewis Portrait Clive Lewis (Norwich South) (Lab)
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It is always good to speak after the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), because he genuinely makes the idea of deepening economic inequality sound so plausible and convincing. If I could do the same from these Benches for the idea of deepening economic equality, I would feel that I had achieved something. He does it so well. When listening to our opponents on the Benches opposite, such as the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel), it is as interesting to think about what they do not say as what they do say, and one thing they always seem reluctant to talk about is taxing wealth. I imagine that I will be a lone voice in this debate, but I intend to make the point none the less that there is a route by which we can have public services that actually work and a fairer economic system, and it requires an increase in the burden on those with the most, not those with the least.

The Bill is not just another arbitrary, reckless and misguided act by this Government; rather, it comes from a long and distinguished line of such Bills stretching back to the 1970s, although their pedigree is far older. This Bill is integral to an economic creed that we have heard much about today, which preaches low tax and small privatised public services, and a belief that inequality is good because it drives competition—competition for jobs and for resources. The creed says that we need not worry about the losers, because we will have something called “trickle-down”, whereby the riches of the few flow down for the many to enjoy.

The only problem is that 60 years later, we are still waiting at the bottom and it has not come down to us yet. Perhaps the Minister can tell us—the millions waiting for that trickle-down who are now routinely using food banks and worrying about how they will pay the next bill—when that trickle-down will arrive. This Bill is the culmination of 60 years of tax cuts, outsourcing, privatisation, impoverishment, profiteering, corruption and greed; 60 years that have left this country more divided than ever, susceptible to climate threats and deeply unequal in everything from income to life expectancy.

What we need is a Government and a legislative programme that will reverse that decline and invest in infrastructure, healthcare, jobs and, yes, people. What we have instead is this Bill making a national insurance tax cut that will, according to Tax Justice UK, see the average worker benefit by—wait for it—£8 a week. It is small beer compared with the £3,000 they have lost to inflation in the last couple of years.

Of course, in keeping with the creed of those on the Government Benches, the better off people are, the more this tax cut will pay out to them. For those on £20,000 a year or so, the cut is worth about £150 a year; for those on £50,000 and above, it is worth almost £750. But whether it is a tax cut of £150 or £750, this Bill does nothing to rebuild our shattered public services, nothing to bring down NHS waiting times, nothing to adapt this country to the approaching climate crisis, and nothing to fix our broken adult social care system. As the Resolution Foundation noted, public sector investment spending—a key driver of growth—is set to fall by 31% as a share of GDP between 2024 and 2029. That is a real-terms cut equivalent to £17 billion.

What does that mean for my constituency? What does that mean for people in my community? Norfolk and Waveney has the highest rate of malnutrition in the United Kingdom. A little while ago, I went to a school in West Earlham in my constituency and spoke to the headteacher about a national article that said it was routine, after 13 years of this Government, for children to have parents who use food banks and to turn up to school with bowlegs. I said to her, “When you’re teaching these children, how do you know that they’re hungry?” She said, “It’s quite clear. They eat the sand in the sandpit.” Those are the signs that teachers look for to know that children are genuinely hungry.

Norfolk and Suffolk have the worst mental health services in the country. Norfolk and Waveney is among the top five dental deserts in England. Ambulance delays have been going on for over a decade with little sign of improvement. This national insurance cut will do nothing for those services. On the day of the Budget, I spoke to the BBC. The interviewer, Andrew Sinclair, said to me, “Clive, there’s a cost of living crisis, and you want more money in the pockets of your constituents.” I said, “Yes Andrew, I do, but I also want functional public services.”

With those few hundred extra pounds each year in someone’s pocket—£8 a week—they will not be able to pay for a private surgeon for their hip operation that they are waiting for. They will not be able to pay for a private dentist to extract their teeth, do dental surgery or work on their teeth. They will not be able to buy a classroom for their child, who is sitting in one with rotting concrete. That will not help them. The Budget, and this Bill, will not help my constituents who are waiting for mental health services. I heard this week at a meeting that I organised with my Conservative colleagues about our failing mental health care system that children have killed themselves because they cannot see a psychiatrist or psychologist. The Bill will do nothing for them.

Who will pay for those services? There is an answer. We are one of the most unequal economies in the western world when it comes to wealth. Let us look at wealth. In this country, those with the lowest incomes are likely to have a combined tax rate on income and wealth of approximately 44% per annum. Meanwhile, those in the highest decile of earners are likely to pay no more than 21.5% per annum on their combined income and wealth. The answer is clear. We can raise billions to pay for the public services we need without raising tax on the lowest paid or middle earners, and without increasing the income tax burden, by putting a little more tax on those with the greatest wealth and the broadest shoulders—those who should pay their way and contribute to our public services, which are so badly needed. This Bill does none of that.

15:22
David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con)
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I welcome this Bill, as I did the previous one that reduced national insurance contributions. As a starting point, we must recognise that a lot of the lobbying about our economy tends to come from the biggest organisations with the deepest pockets. Around 70% of people employed in this country work in an enterprise with fewer than five staff. Those businesses do not necessarily have a big public affairs department or a collective sector or trade body to represent them, but they will benefit enormously and directly in their pockets from the decisions that we take this afternoon.

It concerns me a little to hear those on the Opposition Benches who scorn the value of the money that the Bill puts back into people’s pockets, because £8 a week might not seem like a huge amount—in the context of an MP’s salary, perhaps it is not—but particularly for lower income households, that £8 a week accumulated over the period of a year is a valuable contribution towards a better standard of living. It is more money to spend on the rising costs that households face—car insurance and other bills—or to put towards a family holiday, a better Christmas or more treats for the children. We should recognise that all of that contributes to a higher standard of living for people in this country. A lot of today’s debate has been party political in tone, perhaps regrettably, given how empty the Opposition Benches are.

I was elected to public office for the first time in 1998—a year after the last Labour Government took office. Many of us will recall that that Government were elected on a pledge that they would stick to the spending plans put in place by the outgoing Conservative Government in 1997 for their first three years in office. Thereafter, they spent, in broad terms, 10% more taxpayers’ money every single year than they raised in taxation revenue. When the country faced a significant financial crash in the late 2000s, there was already a huge national debt as a result of the Labour party’s failure ever to meet their committed expenditure through tax rises, productivity growth or any other method.

For me as a local authority councillor, that meant a Labour Government who said, “We are introducing entitlements to higher standards of care and an expectation that you will fund it through introducing charges for the most vulnerable people.” That Labour Government required every single local authority to make massive efficiency savings every year in every other part of public services to balance the budget. Given some of the pledges that Labour made in the Budget debate, whether on the environment, VAT on school fees or windfall taxes, if there is to be a change of Government, we will see yet another period of a Labour Chancellor saying, “We failed to raise this money in tax, we have not generated the income, so we are going to borrow, borrow and borrow, and the national debt will continue to rise.”

The taxable capacity of our economy and the economies of every country in the western world is an important consideration for us. Every major economy has been affected by covid and Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. We must be careful about how we allocate taxpayers’ money to ensure that we are contributing to growth and focusing on the things that make the biggest difference to our constituents’ standard of living.

The Treasury team has been lobbied a great deal on issues from inheritance tax to stamp duty, higher rate tax and additional rate tax. I was pleased to see in the Budget that measures have been taken or work has begun on things like reducing the cliff edges that affect people, such as in child benefit. However, we need to recognise that around 11% of taxpayers in the UK currently pay higher rate tax, whereas the national insurance cut benefits, as my hon. Friend the Minister said at the Dispatch box, around 29 million working people—the vast majority of people in this country.

According to the Barclays insights report for my constituency, which I received recently, as I think did every other right hon. and hon. Member, the biggest increase in discretionary expenditure has been on lower-income working households. That suggests that the measures taken by the Government to date are beginning to feed through.

Let me turn briefly to a number of points that have been raised about the use of national insurance contributions. We heard the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), asserting very clearly at the Dispatch Box in Prime Minister’s questions earlier that a reduction of national insurance meant a cut in the budget for the NHS. It is worth reflecting on the Government Actuary’s quinquennial review, which sets out in a lot of detail how national insurance contributions are used, some of their history and how they came to be that way.

When national insurance was introduced in 1911, it was intended to represent—in a physical sense, with an actual stamp on a card—a direct contribution towards someone’s benefits and pension. It evolved, in particular with the 1948 reforms, into the shape we see today. But there is no direct hypothecation between the vast majority of national insurance contributions and any part of public services. In fact, around 94% of the national insurance fund is spent directly on funding retirement pensions. It is a subset of other categories of national insurance contributions that represent the biggest single transfer from NICs paid by our constituents into the national health service.

As I learned in my time engaging with a whole variety of different bits of government, such as the teachers’ pension scheme, people pay in, it goes into a pool of Government funding and decisions are then made by the Treasury on how to distribute that. In the case of the national insurance fund, we know that one of the issues the Budget begins to deal with really effectively is the recognition of a 17% statutory maximum on any Treasury contribution to cover shortfalls in that expenditure. Yet by the middle of this century, as a result of our changing demographics, we know that those shortfalls will become quite significant.

The steps made through such measures as the removal of a lifetime limit on pension saving and the uprating of auto-enrolment are examples of a Government not just thinking a couple of years ahead with an election in mind, but thinking 30 years and 40 years ahead to ensure that we have a sound financial basis for the biggest single item of Government expenditure in the middle of this century, when all those bills will be coming home to roost. That is evidence of a responsible and Conservative approach: looking at how we can make decisions within our taxable capacity that reflect a proper understanding of what the data tell us about the long-term position. That supports things like an increased savings rate—again, all the data we are getting demonstrates that our constituents are beginning to take that seriously—with a view to ensuring long-term stability.

On that note, I conclude by saying that the Treasury and the Government have taken exactly the right decision. They recognise that the benefits provided to pensioner households in particular over the past 14 years mean that they are now much, much wealthier, relatively speaking, than they used to be, supported by the triple lock. They now need to acknowledge that working people, who have borne a significant burden because of covid and the war in Ukraine, need extra money in their pockets. We must set that against the backdrop of an economy where, on average, 800 jobs have been created for every single day that the Conservatives have in office since 2010, where the youth unemployment rate has halved since the last Labour Government, and where foreign investment is supporting the creation of jobs and investment in productivity, which gives us cause to be optimistic and positive that this is genuinely a Budget for a better future.

15:32
Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
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The Liberal Democrats support measures to reduce the tax burden on hard-hit households during the cost of living crisis, but the Bill is yet another deception from the Conservative Government. Everyone can see what this alleged tax cut really is: a badly executed swindle from this Chancellor in his desperate attempt to convince people he is cutting taxes. Yet the British people will not be fooled. It is clear that, despite his claims to the contrary, the Chancellor is continuing to stealth-tax millions of hard-working families and pensioners through the freeze on national insurance and income tax thresholds, which is subjecting them to the highest tax burden since the second world war.

Since last April, a typical household has already paid almost £1,500 extra because of the Chancellor’s stealth tax hit, while enduring higher mortgage or rental costs, sky-rocketing energy bills, and soaring food prices at the till—all as a result of decisions made by this Conservative Government. Despite all that, the Chancellor is still trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Even after the measures proposed in the Bill today are enacted, that same typical household will be paying an additional £366 next year, because the Chancellor has frozen their tax-free personal allowance. Worse still will be the hit to pensioners, who will see almost half the gains they receive from the basic state pension over the next four years wiped out by these Conservative stealth taxes. That is an £8 billion pensioner penalty, all as a result of this Conservative Chancellor effectively taking a bolt cutter to the triple lock. It is therefore clear that these deceptive Conservative claims to be cutting taxes simply are not worth the paper they are written on.

In his Budget last week the Chancellor could have given real support to hard-hit households suffering through the cost of living crisis, but instead he delivered yet more of the same from this out-of-touch and out-of-ideas Conservative party. The Liberal Democrats have called on the Government to give valuable support to those who are struggling to make ends meet, including a mortgage protection fund paid for by a reversal of the Conservative tax cuts for the big banks so that struggling families do not lose their homes, support for renters through the banning of no-fault evictions and the introduction of longer standard tenancies, and further help for all households with their energy bills through a doubling of the warm home discount.

Those steps would have made a real difference to families struggling in the middle of a Conservative recession. The Chancellor sat on his hands, opting instead for a last-ditch attempt to cling to power; but across the country, people will not be fooled. That is why I tabled new clause 2, which I will speak about in more detail in Committee, and to which I hope Members on both sides of the House will lend their support. The new clause, if accepted, would lay bare this Conservative Government’s stealth tax deception by shining a light on the millions of people who will be dragged into paying national insurance as a result of the freeze on tax thresholds.

The Liberal Democrats support measures to ease the tax burden on hard-working families during the cost of living crisis, but we will not be supporting this deceptive Conservative legislation today. For too long the Chancellor has claimed to be cutting taxes, seemingly giving with one hand while taking more with the other. That is why voters throughout the country are sick and tired of this out-of-touch Conservative Government and are switching to the Liberal Democrats. In seats all over the country, it is clear that the choice at the next election will be between an out-of-touch Conservative MP and a hard-working Liberal Democrat one.

15:36
Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar (Aberconwy) (Con)
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I must confess that I have not spoken in many Budget-related debates in the House, partly because I am well aware of the expertise of many other Members. It is a matter of some interest and pleasure for me to listen to the likes of my right hon. Friends the Members for Witham (Priti Patel) and for Wokingham (John Redwood) as they explain the consequences of, and the reasoning behind, measures such as this, and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, for showing up. As my right hon. Friend for Witham said, it is good to have a debate about these issues and it is important that we do so, but that is difficult when the Labour Benches stand empty before us.

In the words of my office manager, Barbara—who will enjoy the reference—I am a bear of little brain, and I therefore think of Budgets in simple terms. There is money coming in and there is money that must go out, and hopefully there is a surplus between the two sums. My right hon. Friends the Members for Witham and for Wokingham have already covered issues such as growth and productivity so well that I will not deal with them now, but the points that they made bring me to my own first point, which is that Budgets are about choices. Much as Opposition Members want to make out that this is a single-issue debate that is all about spending, there are choices involved in how a Government must spend any money that they have, or must borrow in order to spend.

The first of those choices is “Do we spend on public services?”, and the Chancellor has said, very clearly, “We do.” An extra £150 billion is being spent on public services, and that is in the context of a health budget of about £176 billion a year and a pensions budget of £124 billion. It is not an insignificant amount. It is not an afterthought. It is not a rounding-up error that slipped past the accountants’ eyes in the preparation of the Budget. It is a serious commitment to public services.

At this point, I must refer to my own constituency and the Chancellor’s inclusion of cultural projects of national significance, with £10 million for Venue Cymru in Aberconwy. We are exceedingly grateful for that, and I know that the council was delighted and surprised, but I did work hard to make the case for it with the Chancellor. As he pointed out, culture is an investment with a real economic return, and that is something that the students at Ysgol John Bright in my constituency understood. Just last week I was talking to the cast of its production of “Chicago”, and Lily, Arron, Isobel and others said how much they appreciated the chance to take part in productions not just in the school hall but in the local theatre. They saw the value of an investment in that theatre enabling future generations to have the same experience.

That brings me to my second point about how we choose to spend our money. We can invest it, as the Chancellor has demonstrated—for example, in his reference to a productivity programme. I think he set aside £140 million or £150 million for productivity within the NHS. No one can describe this as a short-termist Budget, or one that is only thinking about some event that may happen later this year—I cannot imagine what. This is a really forward-looking Budget.

The third thing that a Chancellor can do with a Budget is repay debt, which I feel very strongly about. The argument was made by the hon. Member for Norwich South that we can pay more and more into public services. Usually, the argument is that we can pay a penny here or a penny there, which never sounds like much, but the debt that builds up when we have to borrow to make payments is considerable. Let us not forget that the narrative of “just a penny more” or “just give us more money and we’ll get it done” was tested to destruction in 2010. By the time we got to 2010, what was the legacy? A note saying, “There’s no money left.” I did not write the note; it was a Member now on the Opposition Benches—then a Minister, no less. We have to address the idea that we should simply throw more money into public services. We have a duty to members of the public to change the narrative of, “This party is bad because it doesn’t spend; that party is good because it does spend.” It is not the answer, which is why we have a moral duty—never mind an economic and financial one—to properly make the case for reform. Again, I refer back to the Chancellor’s decision to put £140 million or £150 million into a productivity boost for the NHS.

Debt levels are increasing—that is for sure. Health and pensions will receive £176.2 billion and £124.3 billion respectively this year. The third biggest public sector spend this year will not be on policing, defence—that is a subject for another debate—education or universal credit, but on the interest on debt repayments. I am sorry to pick on the hon. Member for Norwich South, and even sorrier that he is not in his place to hear this, but to keep reducing everything to the number of nurses we might be able to recruit, or to the number of hospitals we might be able to build, is an irresponsible way of looking at public services. The repayment that we make on debt is forecast to be £94 billion this year. In simple maths, that is the equivalent of building two new primary schools every single hour of every single day this year. If we want to reduce stuff to such a level, let us have that conversation, because our debt repayments are costing us two new primary schools, at £5 million each, every hour—24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Maybe I have got the price slightly wrong, but we can work out the numbers

We know that debt levels increased under the last Labour Government. I will not be drawn into that discussion—much as I would like to—because this debate is about national insurance, but I will make the point that debt has increased. How have the Conservative Government done that over the last 14 years? They have spent money on the things that this country has needed. Apart from empty coffers, we inherited a global financial crisis. We introduced a programme of austerity, and we had to work that through with three programmes of quantitative easing, worth about £350 billion. We were then unexpectedly hit by a pandemic, for which our expenditure was about £410 billion—equivalent to about £6,000 per head of population. That costs money to service, and we are now paying it back.

None of us knew that the pandemic was coming. None of us knew that a war was coming in the east of Europe. None of us knew that an energy crisis was coming. None of us knew that there was going to be inflation across the economy. None of us knew these things, but this Government responded and we wrote the cheques. When the energy crisis came up, the Government spent £67 billion on supporting businesses and members of the public. During the covid crisis, £140 billion of that £410 billion went on shielding business so that when we came out, the economy bounced straight back to where it had been. This is an understanding of how the economy works and of how public finance works. It is distinctively Conservative that this is so, and we have shown this.

There is a fourth thing we can do with that spend. If we are not spending it on public services, investing it or drawing down debt, we can choose to cut taxes, and that is where we have come to. It was on the streets of Llandudno that I encountered the first person to ask me, “Who is going to pay for all of this?” It was during the covid pandemic, on the King’s Drive in Llandudno, where a resident and I were having a chat across his garden wall—suitably spaced at the time, of course. The area has it challenges, and it might be expected that people there would be looking for help from the Government, and indeed they did, but that gentleman, who had lived on that street for six decades, was the first person to look me in the eye and say, “Someone is going to have to pay for all this.”

That is an important point. We talk about being honest, and I was sorry to hear some of the comments from the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) about being honest and not pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Let us start by saying, “This costs, and someone has to pay for it. Someone has to be responsible for looking at how this is paid for.” The choices we make to spend are matched by the choices we make on how we spend and where the money goes.

This Government have chosen to make a cut in national insurance, and I fully support that. I would say that 2% is a distinctively conservative amount, in a distinctively Conservative approach to tax cutting. It matters; it is making a difference. We hear that for someone on the UK average salary of £34,500, that will be worth about £900, taking the two cuts of 2% together. A 4% cut will be worth about £900. In my constituency the average salary is considerably less; it is about £28,000. Iusb know that some who are listening to this will doubt that, but that is the figure. To somebody on £28,000, that 4% cut will be worth about £600, and that makes a difference. That £50 a month will make a difference.

That brings me to my first comment about the national insurance cut, which is that it is targeted. This is deliberately intended to make a difference. This is not gesture politics. This is not unfunded. This is not careless. This is not something that is done casually or without thought or regard. It is targeted, and 27 million people are better off. There has been talk of why pensioners have not been included, but pensioners have benefited from the triple lock. There has also been talk that the better-off receive more of a cut. The nature of tax is the more you receive, the more you pay. That was exactly the argument made by the hon. Member for Norwich South, and I might characterise it as “soak the rich”, yet that somehow seems to be an argument against providing a tax cut. That is nonsense and it demonstrates a misunderstanding of finance that exists on the Opposition Benches.

This measure is targeted because it is aimed at those who are in work. It is distinctively Conservative to encourage and reward those in work and to say to them, “At the end of this month you will have more left over in your pay cheque than you did before. Why? Because the Government have made that decision to impact your pay cheque so that you can take home more.” If we are going to talk about comparisons, we should go back to 2010 and say that over these 14 years the attitude to work and the understanding of the importance of work are reflected in the fact that, on average, 800 new jobs a day have been created under this Conservative Government. It is a distinctively Conservative thing to target finance intelligently and to do it to encourage people into work and encourage them in that work.

My second point is that it is the second cut in a row, and dare I say it—oh, there is no one on the Opposition Benches to listen to this—there is a plan to reduce the tax burden. We have established that there was a need for the Government to make payments to support people and businesses through the pandemic, the energy crisis and inflation, but we are now cutting the rates to encourage work, and it is a plan. It is distinctively Conservative to have a plan, and 4p off the tax on my wages and their wages is a big cut by any estimation.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park talked about the Chancellor taking a bolt cutter to the triple lock, and I remind her that pensions are structured in such a way that people do not pay tax when they pay in, so that the sum builds up and they benefit from the interest it accrues—it grows faster over time. The other side is that they pay some tax when they take their pension. The pension was never intended to be tax free, and there has always been an expectation that there will be some payment to be made. That is not taking a bolt cutter to the triple lock.

It was this Chancellor who committed to the triple lock, and that commitment, depending on the estimate, has cost the Government £10 billion. There are other ways to calculate the pension, such as having a double lock, measuring it against the consumer prices index or measuring it against earnings, but saying that, no, the triple lock stands has cost the Government £10 billion more, which is £10 billion in pensioners’ pockets. Let nobody say that this Government do not care about pensioners or the elderly—and I say that as an MP representing a constituency where 27% of my constituents are over the age of 65. Again, we all have to make a payment, and this is about talking straight.

We may have forgotten the capital reliefs—the full expensing—announced in the last autumn statement. Again, that has a cost, but it is a real benefit to business. That is £50 billion over five year. There might be questions about that estimate, but it is another big commitment, this time not to pensioners but to business. To come back to my point about a plan, we have made a commitment to pensioners—an expensive one, but the right one—and we have made a commitment to business to encourage growth, so it makes sense that in this Budget we have made a commitment to workers. Again, this sounds like a plan; it sounds to me like there is an intentionality that I simply do not see or hear from Opposition Members.

My third point is that I am very happy with the aspiration to reduce further or eliminate national insurance. It is distinctively Conservative to want to reduce tax further, and it is distinctively Conservative to make tax simpler. This is perhaps not the time to debate other tax methods or flat taxes, but I see no problem with suggesting our direction of travel. What I find remarkable is that the Opposition’s immediate reaction is to say, “Oh, that’s unfunded.” At some point in the management of the public finances, we have to balance where the money comes from with where it is going. It is completely reasonable to say that we have an aspiration to reduce taxes. If it is a case of eliminating national insurance, so be it.

I will bring my remarks to a close—[Interruption.] I can hear the chuntering from the small number of Opposition Members present, and I thank the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) for joining her Front-Bench colleagues. The doctor says that sometimes medicine does not taste so good, and I have a feeling that some of the things I am talking about do not taste good to those on the other side of this House, because this is medicine; I am talking about a responsible approach to public finance, telling the truth, and dealing with people as adults by saying, “Money has been spent and now money is having to be paid back.”

The key point is that we are still managing to bring cuts to the tax paid by workers. As I said, we have a trajectory on that: we have given money to pensioners—those who need it; we have given money to businesses, through capital relief and full expensing; and now we are doing this for workers. This is distinctively Conservative because of the intentionality, the plan and the focus on those who need it, the businesses that create growth and wealth, and the workers we wish to incentivise with it. We understand that the Opposition will vote for these cuts, but they cannot muster any enthusiasm for them—they certainly cannot muster any debate about them. We know that Opposition Members are here somewhere, because, presumably, they will all turn up to vote in a minute, but they are not on the Benches now. The question is: what is the Labour plan for tax?

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds
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I am very much enjoying what my hon. Friend has to say to the House about this Budget. He will have heard the saying many times in the local government world that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. One Opposition party has a strategy of trying to pretend it has no funding commitments but it has a deeply ingrained culture of tax and spend, whereas we have a party of government whose culture and strategy is very much about a long-term trajectory of tax cuts and living within our means. Does he agree that it is the culture in the Government of living within our means that will out after this election?

Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar
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My hon. Friend makes a good point, in that, first, culture does eat strategy. We can strip away all the words about this but his point about cutting our cloth and living within our means describes exactly what we have seen happening. I have tried to set out, albeit perhaps rather clumsily—I ask Members to forgive me if that is so—that there is a 10-year story here of inheriting no money, and running into a pandemic that nobody expected, a war that no one planned, an energy crisis and global inflation. Yet this Government turn up with a Budget that says to the worker, “4p less in the pound is what you are having to pay.”. That is remarkable.

We might argue about the hows, whys and wherefores, but we have to be honest about the fact that the headwinds we have encountered as a nation over the past decade were not expected. Given that we started from a point of having no money—to use the phrase on the note left by the Labour Minister—it is extraordinary that we are here today debating another 2p off tax. It is even more extraordinary to me that the Opposition have not got the bottle to turn up for a debate as important as this.

15:58
Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
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I have to follow the comments made by the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Robin Millar). I was listening carefully and trying to pick out something useful from his speech, and I did find a line: someone is going to have to pay. SNP Members know that public services are going to have to pay for this measure, which is why we tabled our reasoned amendment; there is going to be a crushing effect on them.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about debt levels, but, unfortunately, like the Labour and Tory parties, he did not talk about debt levels accruing in households because of the cost of living crisis. They never mention people in their houses who are struggling through the situation they are faced with at the moment. That is for something else, but those are the effects on people in real life while we are just talking around the subject. I think I heard the Labour Front Bencher say that in this Budget for every £5 people get back, they will lose £10. [Interruption.] That is not being disagreed with, so I believe it is correct, and yet Labour will still back this Bill; Labour Members will not vote against it today. This is another measure on that journey to take money out of people’s pockets.

It was good to hear the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) speaking about the issues, including the reasons why we have brought forward our reasoned amendment. He talked about the long “economic creed” of this type of Bill that privatises public services. I enjoyed his speech and agreed with it. I hope he will persuade his colleagues and try to change their minds, so that they come back and vote against the Bill. I hope he will join us in the Lobby as well—it is a shame he is not in his place to hear that just now.

This is a Parliament of flatlining growth and falling living standards. The Labour party keeps asking where the money is coming from, yet it is afraid to ask that question about the measures set out in this Bill because it does not want to tackle the subject. When the Institute for Fiscal Studies calls out both the Government and the Labour party for “a conspiracy of silence” over the effects of the Chancellor’s Budget, including these measures, it is not hard to drill down to see why the Bill should be opposed.

Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar
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On that point, will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
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Go on. The hon. Gentleman has had 20 minutes, but I will give him another go.

Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar
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The hon. Gentleman is being generous; I appreciate that he has a speech to give. The fact is that somebody on the national living wage, or the minimum wage as it was in 2010, is now, in 2024, 35% better off in real terms. That is not a trajectory of decline: somebody on the bottom rung of society, in terms of earnings, is better off.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
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I thought the hon. Gentleman had got through all that stuff in his speech. I will let him know just now that, because of this measure, anybody earning up to £19,000 per annum will still be worse off, or at least no better off, because of frozen thresholds under the control of his Government. The biggest gainers are those earning over £50,000 per annum. As a result of the changes and frozen thresholds, someone working full time and earning the minimum wage will see a net tax increase of more than £200, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The Resolution Foundation said that there will be a 0.9% fall in real terms in household disposable income between 2019 and 2025.

The Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out again this week that the Government make their own fiscal rules. They decide what they are going to do and make decisions that they take forward. There is not some magic envelope that they have to work within, where they have no flexibility and are unable to move outside that envelope or do anything different. They can make choices, but the choices they are making are bad ones. Austerity is a choice that this Government have made time and again, with the same outcome: 2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019—failure, failure, failure and failure. If that is not enough, throw a disastrous Brexit and a toxic mini-Budget into the mix and see what happens.

The measures in the Bill are a grubby election gimmick that makes things much worse for everyone. People are struggling. They are struggling with food prices, which have been boosted by Brexit to over 25% more than they were a couple of years ago. Millions of people are paying hundreds of pounds more on mortgages. Opening letters, emails and apps shows the sharp interest they are paying for energy costs. The measures, along with the lack of investment in public services, leaves public service cuts beyond reasonable imagination.

It is not just me saying that. The Institute for Government has said:

“The reality is that these spending plans will be impossible to deliver”,

as have other institutes. The Resolution Foundation says they are “fiscal fiction”. Let us think about the impact of that. Where is the Labour party on that subject? Where is the so-called “party of labour” on the subject? Missing in action when its Members should be here. What is the point?

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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The Labour party in Scotland has made the point that change is coming, but can my hon. Friend explain to me, other than changing the colour of the rosette over No. 10 Downing Street, what that change actually is? Given that Labour Members are not voting against this Budget and they have agreed with the Government on Gaza and on multiple other policy areas, what is the point of Labour?

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. That was underlined the other day when the Labour leader was interviewed by Sophy Ridge, and he was not willing to say what Labour would do differently. It was also underlined by the campaign co-ordinator, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), who would not disagree with any part of the Tories’ horrible Budget. What is the point of Labour?

What is the point in this Government continuing along this disastrous path that they have put in place? They say that they want to increase productivity in the UK, but their productivity aims are destined to be fatally undermined by inevitable public sector industrial action, which workers will be right to take. They will also then have to face the policy panics that will follow. No, sorry, the Conservatives will not be in Government. It will be Labour that will have to face those policy panics and the U-turns that will inevitably have to be made.

This Bill has been designed by losers. It will mean that many more people will be losing what they value: decent public services. It is not only, as the Chancellor said, Scottish oil and gas that are losing out. Other losers include: action on climate change, the just transition and, yes, let us not forget Labour abandoning its £28 billion a year promise to invest in the green economy. That has turned to dust as well.

What we needed in the Budget were measures to help people with food, with mortgages, with rent and with energy costs. We needed public services protected, and proper investment in the NHS. This is a desperately shoddy Bill that plunges our public sector into a desperate and dark future that helps few and hurts many. The nations of the UK needed better, and Scotland deserves to be out of this Westminster austerity nightmare.

16:06
Steve Double Portrait Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con)
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Being the last to speak in these debates has become a bit of a habit—and with you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I rise to speak very much in favour of this Bill. It delivers a 2% cut in national insurance, which will be hugely welcomed by thousands of households in my constituency, and indeed across the country. For someone on the average wage, this change, combined with the 2% cut that we introduced in January, will mean a £900 cut, which, for a household with two people earning, is £1,800 a year. Although that is not life-changing money, for many working households across this country, that £150 a month will make a significant difference in easing the pressures on their household budgets and the challenges they currently face.

We must acknowledge that we can make this cut only because of the difficult decisions that we have consistently made over many years to be responsible in our handling of the public finances. I know I said that yesterday, but it needs to be continually repeated. This is against a backdrop of two of the biggest shocks to our economy and public finances that any of us will ever live through: the pandemic and then the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis it produced. The Government have spent nearly half a trillion pounds supporting the country, keeping people in work, and supporting businesses and households.

I know that Labour bangs on about the fact that we have had to increase taxes to pay for all of that, but we all know that, had Labour been in power over the past few years, the bill would have been even higher, because it wanted longer lockdowns and tighter restrictions. Every time we came forward with measures of support, Labour said that they were not enough and that we should be spending more. Therefore, as much as Labour Members may criticise—and they think it is their job to do so—the country knows that, had they been in power, the bills would have been higher and we would have had to put up taxes by even more in order to balance the books. But because of the difficult decisions that we have made, we are now able to start to cut taxes for people, which is hugely welcome.

Despite all that is being said, the reality is that the effective tax rate is at the lowest it has been since 1975. Let us not forget that shortly after 1975, under a Labour Government, the top tax rate in this country was 83%. I know why Labour Members talk about high taxes; it is because they know more about high taxes than anyone else. We also have to put this in the context of the personal allowance being increased since 2010, when it was £6,475. It is now £12,570. The personal allowance has almost doubled, which has been a welcome and important measure. The Labour party criticises us because we have had to make the difficult decision to freeze the personal allowance for a few years, but let us remember that, between 2010 and 2021, Labour voted against every single Finance Bill that we introduced to increase the personal allowance. Every time we tried to increase the personal allowance, Labour opposed it, so we will take no lessons from Labour when it comes to personal allowances.

I welcome the Government’s ambition to continue to reduce national insurance and ultimately scrap it, because it is a double tax on work. That is the right ambition, and let us be clear that it is an ambition. I know that Labour Front Benchers are enjoying making a point about that. After the fiasco of Labour’s £28 billion green deal promise—which was not a promise, then was, and now is not—I would have thought that Labour would know the difference between an ambition and a promise. It is an ambition, and it is absolutely right to have that ambition. I looked up a headline from 2020 in The Guardiannot the most pro-Conservative, right-wing newspaper—which said, “A truly bold Chancellor would scrap national insurance”. I am very happy that we have a bold Chancellor who has said that the Government’s ambition is to scrap national insurance.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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The hon. Member mentioned the green deal. I have hundreds of constituents who were essentially screwed under the 2010 Government’s green deal with the Lib Dems. Rogue builders were allowed to screw them out of thousands of pounds. The Government have done nothing for my constituents. What does he have to say about that?

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. Mr Newlands, you are incredibly intelligent. Maybe next time you will think of a different way of expressing that.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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I am not sure what the hon. Member’s intervention has to do with the Bill, but I am sure that all his constituents who are in work will welcome the 4% cut in national insurance. The Scottish National party has raised taxes to their highest level anywhere in the United Kingdom, so I am sure that his constituents will be grateful for the Bill.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Robin Millar), I represent a constituency with a higher-than-average number of pensioners. Some of them have been in touch with me questioning why, as far as they could see, there was nothing in the Budget for them. Clearly, cutting national insurance does not affect them because they do not pay it. We have to remember that the Government have kept the triple lock commitment. Pensioners rightly had a 10% rise in their pensions last year. I was one of those who fought hard in the autumn of 2022 to ensure that we kept that commitment. Next month, they will rightly get a further 8.5% rise in their pensions. When those measures are combined, pensions will have gone up by 18.5% over two years, which is a significant rise. We have rightly kept our promise to pensioners. It is in that context that the Government have now rightly focused on supporting people in work and in jobs, which is very welcome.

We have to set this Bill and the 2% cut that it delivers in the context of the 2% cut that we made in January and the fact that, because of our careful management of the public finances and the economy, inflation is coming down and the green shoots of growth are back in our economy. For those reasons, we are able to make the decision to cut national insurance. I am happy to vote for the Bill this evening.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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To start the wind-ups, I call Tulip Siddiq.

16:14
Tulip Siddiq Portrait Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab)
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Labour will always support policies that ease the burden on working people. Labour has said consistently that we want taxes on working people to be lower. That is why, two years ago, when the current Prime Minister wanted to increase national insurance, we opposed it. That is why we supported the cut to national insurance last autumn and why we will support these measures we are debating to bring down national insurance by a further 2p. Let us be clear, however, that the measures come in the context of the highest tax burden on working people since 1949—a tax burden that is continuing to rise. The British public face not just further tax rises, but stagnant growth and wages, prices still going up in the shops, and higher mortgages and rents. Indeed, this will be the only Parliament on record in which living standards have fallen.

Unwilling and unable to fix the economic mess that they have created, the Government have resorted to empty promises—pledge after pledge, but never a plan. Last week, the Chancellor made a £46 billion unfunded promise to abolish national insurance altogether, with no explanation of how he would pay for it. I look forward to the Minister explaining in his speech exactly how it will be paid for. The British people are sick and tired of Conservative spin.

Let us take the Government’s claim that a person on average earnings will be £900 better off as result of this national insurance cut, when combined with the changes made in January. That completely ignores the Chancellor’s own stealth tax rises. His decision not to increase tax thresholds in line with inflation means that the tax burden is forecast to rise by another £41.1 billion over the next five years. That fiscal drag will create 3.7 million new taxpayers by 2028-29. OBR figures show that for every 10p extra that working people pay in tax under this plan, they will get back only 5p as result of the combined cuts to national insurance contributions. As usual, the Conservatives give with one hand, and take with the other, and they expect the British public to be grateful.

Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said after last week’s Budget that

“this remains a parliament of record tax rises”,

and that is before we consider the rising cost of bills, with food prices up by 25%, rents by 10% and mortgages by an average of £240 a month. Rather than people being £900 better off, as the Conservatives claim, household income is set to fall by £200 over the course of this Parliament.

A week ago, the Chancellor had the opportunity to deliver a Budget that would finally break our country out of the low-growth, low-wage, high-tax cycle that we have been trapped in because of 14 years of economic failure. The British people needed a Budget for the long term to bring prosperity and rebuild our public services, and yet the Chancellor ended his Budget with a £46 billion unfunded tax plan to abolish national insurance. That would leave a gaping hole in the public finances, put family finances at risk and create huge uncertainty for pensioners. I have not heard one attempt from the Government Benches to explain where that money will come from. I look forward to the Minister’s response, because I am sure he will break down exactly where that £46 billion will come from.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the measure is so bad, why is the hon. Lady not voting against it?

Tulip Siddiq Portrait Tulip Siddiq
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not take any lectures from a party that puts oil and gas companies ahead of working people. If the hon. Member wants to change his policy on oil and gas companies having priority over working people, he can intervene again, but somehow I do not think that it will change.

The last time the Conservatives implemented a proposal like this, just 18 months ago, they crashed the economy. In fact, the Chancellor’s plan to abolish national insurance contributions would cost more per year than the proposals in that disastrous mini-Budget. The Conservatives might deny it, but millions of people are still paying the price of their last ideological experiment: the typical family faces an extra £240 a month when remortgaging this year. The Chancellor’s commitment last week exposed a Conservative Government who are putting party first and country second.

Labour is under no illusions about the state of the public finances after 14 years of Conservative government. We know that if we are elected at the next general election, we will have to take tough decisions in government, but instead of the chaos and recklessness we have seen under the Conservatives, Labour will bring stability and security back to the economy. We will never make a commitment without first saying where the money will come from. We will always be honest with the public because that is the responsible approach.

I hope that the Minister, whom I like very much, will finally come clean with the British people in his response. I hope that he will finally break with his party’s irresponsible promises and endless spin. I hope that he will be honest and say that, as a result of decisions taken by his Government, the tax burden on working people is forecast to go up each year over the next five years, and that for every 10p extra that working people pay in tax under the Conservatives, they will get only 5p back. Most importantly, I hope that he takes the opportunity to be straight with the British people, as we have repeatedly asked him to do, by setting out exactly how his Government will pay for their unfunded £46 billion promise to abolish national insurance.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Tulip Siddiq Portrait Tulip Siddiq
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No, I am finishing.

The British people deserve better. This is just another Conservative pledge without a plan. The Conservatives should call a general election now.

16:22
Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Nigel Huddleston)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. I think it would be fair to say that a range of perspectives have been presented, but most of us—certainly on the Government Benches—agree that this is an important piece of legislation. It will deliver tax cuts that make the tax system fairer, while rewarding and incentivising work, and growing the economy in a sustainable way. The national insurance cuts are an important part of that, and they are policy.

I want to respond to the confusion of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), which is understandable given that we have heard promises, policies, aspirations and ambitions from the Labour party in relation to the £28 billion. Let me be clear: it is my party’s ambition to eliminate national insurance. I know that Labour Members do not understand what the word “ambition” means and that it is difficult, but it is an ambition. That is the difference.

I will briefly reiterate the Bill’s main measures and what they seek to achieve. First, the Bill builds on the cuts to national insurance announced in the autumn statement by reducing the main rate of class 1 employee NICs from 10% to 8%. That change will come into effect from 6 April 2024, with employees benefiting from April onwards as employers make the changes to their payroll systems. Secondly, the Bill reduces the self-employed class 4 main rate of NICs from 8% to 6% from 6 April. That follows on from the one percentage point reduction to the main rate of class 4 NICs from 9% to 8% announced in the autumn statement 2023.

Now that inflation is falling and the economy is improving, as we saw in this morning’s figures, which I am sure the Opposition welcome, we can responsibly return some money to taxpayers, but it is important to do so in a way that supports work and grows a sustainable economy for the future. A UK employee can already earn more money before paying income tax and social security contributions than an employee in any other G7 country, and thanks to the NICs cuts in the autumn statement and the spring Budget and above-inflation increases to thresholds since 2010, an average worker on £35,400 in 2024-25 will pay over £1,500 less in personal taxes than they would have done if the thresholds had just increased in line with inflation. As my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) pointed out very well, in contrast to the comments of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, we have reduced the amount of tax paid by increasing the threshold from £6,500 to more than £12,500 over the period in which we have been in office. Labour opposed many of those threshold increases.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay also made the important point that the measures we have taken in recent fiscal events have been focused on helping 29 million workers. Some 27 million employees will benefit from an average £900 saving in national insurance, but of course, we also care deeply about pensioners. Those on the full basic pension will receive an extra £700 in April and those on the full new state pension will receive an extra £900, so 12 million pensioners will also benefit from the significant increases that we will provide through the triple lock. Of course, it is perfectly fair that workers also get some advantage—they will be receiving the benefits I have outlined. The Government are cutting taxes in a responsible way, and have taken difficult but responsible decisions to restore the public finances in the wake of global crises.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has used the word “responsible” a number of times. As has been pointed out by many organisations, not least the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the OBR, there will be substantial cuts to public services. With many English councils already in special measures—effective bankruptcy—where does the Minister see those cuts falling? How will they filter through to the public, and what will be the effect on public sector jobs?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the hon. Member will be aware and as the Chancellor outlined, based on current spending assumptions, total departmental spending will still be £86 billion higher in real terms by 2028-29 than at the start of this Parliament. If he was listening to the debates earlier this week, he will be aware that we will increase spending in real terms by 1% during the forecast period.

The hon. Member and others have raised points about fairness and making sure that we look after the most vulnerable in society, which is of course something we are committed to. Distributional analysis published alongside the spring Budget shows that the typical household at any income decile will see a net benefit in 2024-25 as a result of Government decisions made in the autumn statement—and, indeed, from the autumn statement 2022 onwards—and that low-income households will see the largest benefit as a percentage of income.

We have mentioned many times our commitment to the national living wage. It will soon increase by 9.8% to £11.44, which is expected to benefit around 2.7 million workers. It is important to stress that from April, a full-time national living wage worker’s take-home pay will be 35% greater in real terms than it was in 2010, due to successive increases in the national living wage and changes to personal tax rates and thresholds.

To respond to a few other comments made by right hon. and hon. Members, my right hon. Friends the Members for Witham (Priti Patel) and for Wokingham (John Redwood) both gave excellent speeches, in which they not only championed workers—including the self-employed—but highlighted the fact that we have to operate in a particular context. As has been mentioned many times today, we are in a difficult financial situation because of a global pandemic that hit the global economy, which was followed by the invasion of Ukraine and the significant impact it had on inflation around the world.

The question, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham pointed out, is how much higher taxes would be if Labour had been in charge. Throughout the pandemic, the Government received a lot of support from Members on both sides of the Chamber. That was completely right, but many Members were calling for even greater intervention and even longer lockdowns, which would potentially have done immense damage to the economy.

Some hon. Members raised the contributory principle. In our ambition for further reductions in national insurance, we will make sure that the future tax system has the right mechanism for establishing entitlement to contributory benefits, including the state pension. My right hon. Friend also mentioned the rise in the VAT threshold, which is really important. It will go from £85,000 to £90,000, which means that 28,000 fewer small businesses will be registered for VAT. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) highlighted this Government’s record on jobs in creating 800 jobs a day and in significantly reducing youth unemployment, of which we can all be proud.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Robin Millar), who raised many important points in his speech, pointed out the rather irresponsible scaremongering we have heard today from those on the Labour Front Bench relating to spending on pensions and the NHS. The Opposition should be well aware, especially if they wish to form a Government, that the money raised by NICs does not determine the amount going to the NHS and state pensions. We have announced increasing funding to the NHS and we are uprating state pensions by 8.5% this year, as I have mentioned. We on these Benches can tolerate a decent debate—we are fairly robust— but we will not tolerate irresponsible scaremongering, especially when targeted at the most vulnerable in society, purely to try to take political advantage from making up policies that do not exist. I hope that at some point the Opposition will either get some economic competence or apologise for that.

This really important Bill delivers tax cuts for over 29 million working people. A yearly saving of over £450 for the average worker will result from this Bill alone. Taken together with the cuts to NICs at the autumn statement, it will be worth over £900 per year for the average worker. This will benefit households throughout the United Kingdom and in every single constituency represented in this place. However, here we are again, and in nearly three hours of debate, we have heard nothing but doom and gloom from the Opposition. How disappointed they must have been this morning to hear that the economy has grown. While I am not pretending for one minute that everything is perfect—as I have said, our constituents and the country have been through a very challenging time—it is important to recognise, welcome and applaud success, especially if a party wants to lead a country, champion trade abroad and attract investment. What a terrible advert for the UK we have heard from the Opposition today, who are completely lacking in confidence and ambition for our economy and our workers.

The national insurance cuts we are debating reward work and will provide a further boost to the economy. We are turning a corner, and the plan is working. While we want to put more money back into people’s pockets, the Opposition want to take more out, and while we take every opportunity to talk the country up, they take every opportunity to talk Britain down. The choice is very clear: a plan for growth and a brighter future with the Conservatives, or no hope, no clue and no plan with the Opposition. I commend the Bill to the House.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Should there be a vote on the amendment, 10 minutes will be allowed, and if there is then a vote on Second Reading, eight minutes will be allowed.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

16:33

Division 90

Ayes: 44

Noes: 300

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
16:47

Division 91

Ayes: 304

Noes: 43

Bill read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).
Further proceedings on the Bill stood postponed (Order, this day).
National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No.2) Bill (Money)
King’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No. 2) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided that is attributable to:
(a) reducing the main primary percentage for Class 1 primary national insurance contributions to 8% (and reducing the percentage specified in regulation 131 of the Social Security Contributions Regulations 2001 to 1.85%), and
(b) reducing the main Class 4 percentage for Class 4 national insurance contributions to 6%.—(Scott Mann.)
Question agreed to.

National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No. 2) Bill

Proceedings resumed (Order, this day)
Considered in Committee (Order, this day)
[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]
Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I remind Members that in Committee of the whole House they should not address the Chair as Deputy Speaker. They should please use our names when addressing the Chair. Madam Chair, Chair, Madam Chairman or Mr Chairman are also acceptable—I think I have been called all of those at some stage.

Clause 1

Reduction in rates

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to consider clauses 2 and 3 stand part. I will take the selected new clauses as a separate debate after the clause stand debates.

17:01
Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I outlined the purpose of the Bill in my earlier speech. It is a short and clear Bill with a very clear purpose. It is our desire to move quickly in order for the changes to take effect from 6 April 2024. I sense Members’ desire to move quickly in cutting people’s taxes, and I will detain the Committee no longer.

James Murray Portrait James Murray
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I fear that my speech may be marginally longer than the Minister’s, but I can assure you, Mr Chair, that it will not be too lengthy, because, as I made clear on Second Reading, we will support the national insurance reductions that the clauses in the Bill seek to deliver.

Clause 1 seeks to reduce national insurance contributions by reducing the main rates of employee class 1 and self-employed class 4 contributions, as well as the reduced rate that applies to a historic group of married women and widows. Clause 2 seeks to amend the calculation of annual maximum contributions and is effectively consequential on clause 1. Clause 3 sets out that the Bill will come into force on 6 April.

I would like the Minister to answer a couple of questions when he responds. Will he set out what conversations he has had with employers and payroll software developers about whether they will be ready to implement the provisions in this Bill from the start of the next financial year? I think I heard the Exchequer Secretary, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies), say on Second Reading that he was confident that a majority of employees would receive this tax cut at the beginning of the financial year, but is the Minister confident that every relevant employee will indeed receive the cut to national insurance in their first pay cheque of financial year 2024-25?

More widely, we support what this simple Bill seeks to achieve, so we will support all three clauses being approved by this Committee of the whole House.

Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That was marginally longer, as the hon. Gentleman said. I call Kirsty Blackman.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you very much, Mr Chair—hopefully that is an acceptable form of address to use. I want to speak about the Bill in general and some of our concerns about it. The reality is that this is the wrong measure at the wrong time, as I said on Second Reading.

Earlier, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) spoke about her concerns about the SNP’s policies on oil and gas. She says that we are not putting workers first. Unfortunately, the Labour party’s plans for green investment in energy mean that 100,000 jobs will be lost in Scotland, which is very clearly not putting workers first—unless it is only workers in England who count—given that the money will go on nuclear power.

On the details of this Bill, the reality is that public services are creaking and really struggling. I have spoken to the Electoral Commission, which is concerned about whether it will even be able to deliver elections properly, given that mandatory voter ID has been introduced. The commission was able to co-opt people from other areas in order to ensure that all the recent by-elections were run properly. Will the Minister make it absolutely clear that if there is a general election this year—which there almost has to be; there certainly has to be one in the coming financial year—local authorities will have enough money and people to be able to deliver and service those elections? Will they have enough resources to be able to do that?

The 2022 autumn statement allocated more money to the NHS for 2024-25 than this Budget allocates, so it is a bit of a cheek for any Conservative Member to stand up and say that the Government are putting more money into the NHS. They are putting less money into the NHS than they proposed in autumn 2022. The consequentials that arise from the increase this year are actually less than the in-year consequentials that the Scottish Government had for the NHS in this current year, so it is a very minor increase, because it only works out to in-year terms—[Interruption.] Does the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott) want to intervene? It is ridiculous for the Government to say, “This extra money is going into the NHS” when it is demonstrably less than they intended to spend on the NHS back in autumn 2022.

The Bill is going to make changes to the national insurance rates, and those changes will disproportionately impact higher earners. The Minister was slightly disingenuous when he said that the changes represent a higher percentage for people on lower incomes. Yes, but that is significantly less money. A band 2 worker in the NHS will be getting a £341 reduction in their national insurance rate. An MP in this House will get four times that. How is it fair that somebody in this House who is, in the main, not struggling to make ends meet will get £1,300 when someone working in the NHS will get only £300?

NHS workers have seen exactly the same increase in their energy bills as we have. They have seen exactly the same increase in council tax—actually, no, they have seen a much higher increase in their council tax bills if they live in England compared with those who live in Scotland. They have seen the same 25% hike in food prices. Given that those on lower incomes spend more money on food proportionately than those on higher incomes, that 25% inflation in food prices disproportionately hits families who are earning less. Therefore, we need to give even more to those families, rather than saying, “Well, it’s a higher percentage of your income so you’re okay. You’ll be fine with £340, but those people who are earning 85 grand a year standing in the House of Commons deserve £1,300.”

The hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) made a very good speech on this change, and as he said, it is the essence of trickle-down economics in action. The Government are hoping that if rich people get richer and inequality increases, those people at the bottom of the pile will somehow magically get richer as well. There are much better ways to do this. One of the worst things about this whole situation—apart from the fact that Labour Members are unwilling to oppose it—is the decimation of public services that will result from it. The fact is that we have had 14 years of austerity and that is set to continue. People are going to lose out on vital services. The NHS is absolutely vital. Every one of us has had some sort of interaction with the NHS, yet the Government are setting themselves up for decades of pay battles with staff members because they will be unable to give the pay uplift that people deserve. They are setting us up for the decimation of those services.

I mentioned in my Budget speech last week that £1 billion-worth of cuts have been made by local councils to arts funding. That means children cannot access arts education, cannot go to a local theatre with reduced-price tickets from their local council, and cannot access all these extra things. People are struggling to access the most basic services because local authorities are creaking at the seams, yet the UK Government’s priorities are to allow a 4.99% increase in council tax and to ensure that higher earners get £1,300 whereas those on the minimum wage of £11.44 an hour who work 20 hours a week see absolutely no benefit.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I probably will not respond to everything we have heard today, as we thoroughly addressed many of the issues in the Budget debate.

In response to the new comments, I assure the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) that we always ensure that the democratic process is adequately funded. She is dismissive of the £2.45 billion increase in NHS spending that was outlined in the Budget, but it is a significant amount and, as she is aware, it is a real-terms increase. I agree with the hon. Lady on the importance of arts, culture and the other areas she mentioned, which is precisely why the Budget had measures to extend tax reliefs.

My opposite number, the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray), asked about the logistics of implementing and executing the tax change. We understand the impact of policy changes, and I put on record how grateful we are for all those who have implemented and executed the recent changes so speedily and effectively. Employees whose employer is unable to make changes in time, and who have left their employment, may request a refund from HMRC. The Government are confident that the majority of software developers will be able to make changes to their payroll software in time for 6 April.

On the new clauses, we have outlined the policy today. The impact of any changes to policy would, of course, be subject to the usual public scrutiny of costs, including from the OBR. It is therefore not necessary to produce a report at this stage. The OBR’s “Economic and fiscal outlook” publication for the spring 2024 Budget includes an analysis of the impacts of threshold freezes, including on the number of people brought into paying tax. It is therefore not necessary to produce an additional report at this stage, so we do not believe new clause 1 is necessary.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Review of the effects of reducing employee and self-employed NIC contributions to zero

“(1) The Treasury must publish before the end of the parliamentary session in which this Act is passed an analysis of the effect of —

(a) replacing “8%” with “0%” in section 1(1) of this Act,

(b) replacing “1.85%” with “0%” in section 1(2) of this Act, and

(c) replacing “6%” with “0%” in section 1(3) of this Act.

(2) The analysis in subsection (1) must set out the expected impact of the changes in subsection (1)(a) to (c) on total receipts to the National Insurance Fund in each of the financial years from 2024/25 to 2028/29.

(3) The Treasury must request the Government Actuary to make an assessment of the consequences for the Consolidated Fund in each of the financial years from 2024/25 to 2028/29 of shortfalls in the National Insurance Fund that would result from a zero rate for employee and self-employed national insurance contributions.”—(James Murray.)

This new clause would require the Government, before the end of the current parliamentary session, to set out what the impact would be on total receipts from national insurance and overall public finances of reducing national insurance contributions for employees and self-employed people to zero.

Brought up, and read the First time.

James Murray Portrait James Murray
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 2—Review of effects of frozen thresholds

“The Treasury must lay before the House of Commons within three months of the passing of this Act a report which sets out its forecasts of the change to the number of people paying national insurance contributions as a result of the thresholds for payment of national insurance remaining frozen over the period 2023/24 to 2027/28, rather than rising in line with CPI.”

James Murray Portrait James Murray
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I made clear in the previous debate, we support the national insurance reductions that the Bill seeks to deliver. However, the Chancellor followed the announcement of these reductions in last week’s Budget speech by pulling a rabbit out of his hat that, frankly, left us shocked and deeply concerned.

The Chancellor closed his Budget statement by committing the Conservative party to an unfunded £46 billion tax plan. It is quite incredible, and it tells us everything we need to know about the state of the Conservative party that he would use his last Budget before the general election to promise a plan that leaves a £46 billion hole in the public finances, that puts family finances at risk, and that raises the prospect of higher tax bills for pensioners across the country.

People across Britain are still paying the price for the reckless and unfunded tax plans in the disastrous mini-Budget, so it beggars belief that the very top of the Conservative party—the Prime Minister and the Chancellor —now want to go into the general election with an unfunded tax plan even greater than we saw in the autumn of 2022. We know just how damaging and irresponsible the Conservatives’ unfunded tax plans are for the British economy and for families across the country. Yet for a week now, and in Parliament today, Ministers from the Prime Minister down have been unable to say how this £46 billion tax plan will be funded.

People deserve answers. Are the Conservatives planning to increase taxes, including on Britain’s 8 million taxpaying pensioners? Are they planning to increase borrowing? Are they planning to cut our vital public services to pay for their £46 billion black hole? Ministers are refusing to answer, so our new clause 1 will force them to do so.

17:15
New clause 1 would therefore require the Treasury to come clean and set out the impact of the Conservatives’ plan to reduce national insurance contributions for employees and self-employed people to zero. It would force the Treasury to be honest about the impact of their plan on total receipts from national insurance, and the impact that would have on overall public finances. It would compel the Government to set out how they would fund the black hole that their plan creates. I urge Members in all parts of the House to support our new clause, including Conservative Members—if they want to prove that they can put country before party; and fiscal responsibility ahead of loyalty to their weak Prime Minister. This vote matters because the public deserve answers on the Conservatives’ £46 billion unfunded tax plan.
Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

James Murray Portrait James Murray
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No, I am going to make some progress.

The public deserve to know whether the Prime Minister’s commitment to abolish national insurance means tax hikes for pensioners, even higher borrowing, cuts to important public services, or all of the above.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hate reading and I probably will not be able to read this out either, because my eyes are not good. The shadow Minister talked about what the Chancellor said at the end of the Budget, so let me tell him that he said the following about any further cut:

“When it is responsible, when it can be achieved without increasing borrowing and when it can be delivered without compromising high-quality public services”. —[Official Report, 6 March 2024; Vol. 746, c. 851-52.]

So what problem does the shadow Minister have with cutting taxes on working people?

James Murray Portrait James Murray
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The problem we have with the Chancellor’s announcement is that he has said that in the next Parliament he wants to abolish NI contributions. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister said that on the Saturday following the Budget. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have again and again, in emails to party members and in interviews with media outlets, made it clear that that is what they want to do. I appreciate that some Treasury Ministers have been flip-flopping a bit when they have been out on their media rounds and have not entirely been able to toe the party line. But going into the general election, I would listen to what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are saying, and if they are saying that they want to abolish NI and create a £46 billion black hole in the public finances, they should stand up here and defend that to the people of Great Britain today.

The reckless way in which the Conservatives announced their unfunded tax plan and then refused to give any more details exposes the risk of five more years of them in power. It is clear the Conservatives will happily gamble with the public finances and yet again leave working people being forced to pay the price. As they have been unwilling to explain how their plan will be funded, we will today vote to force the Government to come clean on the impact of their £46 billion tax plan on the state of public finances.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very interested in this and am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I am struggling to understand whether he is for or against the proposed cut in NI. It would be helpful if he would be clear on that. It sounds as though he is saying that the Opposition do not support it, but if that is the case, why would they not have come through the Lobby with us in opposing it?

James Murray Portrait James Murray
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to provide clarification for the hon. Gentleman. We have had an extended debate about this today, where we have made it clear on several occasions that we support the Government’s cut in NI, because we believe that the tax burden on working people is too high and we want to see it come down. What we do not support is an unfunded £46 billion tax plan that the Chancellor has committed the Conservative party to. That is the subject of our new clause that we are debating now, and I look forward to his joining us in voting for it in a few moments.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is making an important point, not least because, to all intents and purposes, the Chancellor’s ambition is to abolish NI altogether. That unfunded tax cut requires a 6% increase in income tax just for us to stand still, unless something is going to give. Do national insurance qualifying years not count towards how much state pension someone is entitled to get? So how do we recalculate one’s entitlement to state pension if the qualifying years do not exist because NI does not exist?

James Murray Portrait James Murray
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention, setting out just some of the problems created by this reckless plan that the Conservatives have put out into the public domain and are refusing to explain or withdraw.

We know that if the Chancellor’s proposal to merge national insurance and income tax were to be followed, it would push up income tax by 6.5%, meaning pensioners would pay, on average, £800 more a year. My hon. Friend also makes important points about the impact of the plan on eligibility to the basic state pension. Again, Members on the Government Front Bench have not answered those questions. They had nothing to say on any of those points, which are concerning people across the country, when they responded earlier.

We have tabled new clause 1 because it will force the Government to come clean about these issues. Ministers are refusing to stand at the Dispatch Box to explain how they will fund their £46 billion black hole or to withdraw their policy entirely. New clause 1 will force them to set that out. Because they have been unwilling to explain how they will fund their plan, we will force them to come clean on its impact on public finances.

Keir Mather Portrait Keir Mather (Selby and Ainsty) (Lab)
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Not only is there concern about where the funding would come from, but in the Treasury Committee just now the Chancellor refused to rule out increasing income tax in order to fund the abolition of NI contributions. The House of Commons Library has said that merging NICs and income tax would require an 8% increase in the basic and higher rates of income tax. What will that do for the long-term future of the UK economy?

James Murray Portrait James Murray
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I thank my hon. Friend for bringing us that update from the Treasury Committee about what the Chancellor has been saying. Again, we can see the Chancellor being reckless by talking about merging national insurance with income tax without having a second thought for what impact that would have on hard-pressed taxpayers, particularly pensioners. Pensioners do not currently pay national insurance on their earnings and would be hit by a tax increase as a result of national insurance and income tax being merged. That is another example of how reckless these plans are, and how reckless it is for Treasury Ministers to refuse to stand up and explain how their plans would be funded.

The public deserves to know. If Ministers vote against our new clause or they refuse to come clean, then the British people will have it confirmed, yet again, that the Conservatives cannot be trusted with the economy, public finances or the finances of households across our country.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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Thank you for calling me, Mr Evans—surely it is long overdue that it should be Sir Nigel, but we will go with Mr Evans for today.

I stand to move new clause 2 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney). Hon. Members will see that the effect of new clause 2 would be fairly short in its compass. It would compel the Treasury to report to this House its forecasts of the change to the number of people who are set to pay national insurance contributions as a result of the thresholds for payment remaining frozen until 2028, instead of increasing in line with the consumer prices index, which would be the case otherwise. The Chancellor and other Ministers have spoken today about the pride the Government take in what they are doing. In the interests of transparency, the Government should have no difficulty accepting new clause 2. I am sure it is merely an inadvertent omission that those measures are not part of the Bill already.

It is apparent that comments made by the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and others about the idea of abolishing national insurance altogether have started a debate, as we have seen this afternoon. It is a substantial commitment to make—£46 billion—and we do not yet know where that money would come from. That is maybe not the novelty that it used to be, certainly before the mini-Budget. However, it offers us an opportunity to think a little bit about the nature of national insurance as a tax, because it is quite distinct in its composition and operation.

In practical terms, functionally, national insurance is more or less like any other tax, in as much as money is paid into the Exchequer and fills the coffers, and then is spent as the Government or Governments see fit—in relation to health, policing, transport, Ministers’ legal fees or whatever else it is going to be.

As a matter of intent and purpose, however, national insurance is identifiably different from the other taxes we pay. More than any other levy, it is the symbol of our shared obligations—what we owe each other as a society and as communities in support throughout our lives. The point of national insurance is that we pool and share resources geographically and generationally. We pay our stamp on each payslip, trusting that, when the time comes for us to retire, someone else will continue to pay taxes that will fund our pensions.

Let us remember that the roots of this tax are in Lloyd George’s Budget, and that the introduction of national insurance came with the introduction of the pension. That is why we have the legacy of the link between national insurance and pensions, which was pointed out by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) in an intervention. That is significant. These are matters that must be clarified before we undertake a change of this sort.

At the heart of any healthy liberal democratic society, there is the idea that we have lasting obligations to one another. We have obligations to those we know, to those we do not know, to generations that are older than us, and to those who are yet to be born. We can be bound by policies with which we disagree, and sometimes we must pay taxes for things that we dislike or that we feel we do not need. That is the system in which the national insurance contribution has a demonstrably significant and different impact than other taxes. It is part of the tapestry of government and public life in this country.

This is perhaps just pulling at a thread, but the Minister and, indeed, people in all parts of the House would be well advised to consider exactly what they may be unravelling by pulling at this thread. Full transparency from the Government on the effect of freezing national insurance contributions in the way that has been proposed should be an important part of this debate as it proceeds.

Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Thank you very much. Can someone from the Liberal Democrats inform the Chair who their tellers will be, as their amendment has been selected for a separate Division?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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As I mentioned earlier, the impact of policy and any changes to policy will be subject to the usual public scrutiny, including from the OBR on costs. It is therefore not necessary to produce additional reports. I will not play into the hands of the Opposition today by commenting further on their scaremongering. I refer the shadow Minister to the answer that I gave earlier, which I thought was quite clear. I am sorry that he is incapable of understanding the difference between an ambition and a policy, but the rest of the House seems to understand it. Hopefully, he will catch up at some point.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

17:27

Division 92

Ayes: 170

Noes: 292

New Clause 2
Review of effects of frozen thresholds
“The Treasury must lay before the House of Commons within three months of the passing of this Act a report which sets out its forecasts of the change to the number of people paying national insurance contributions as a result of the thresholds for payment of national insurance remaining frozen over the period 2023/24 to 2027/28, rather than rising in line with CPI.”—(Mr Carmichael.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
17:43

Division 93

Ayes: 169

Noes: 293

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill reported, without amendment.
Bill, not amended in the Committee, considered.
Third Reading
17:58
Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have participated throughout the Bill’s passage today, and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the other Deputy Speakers for skilfully guiding us through the process. I also thank all the Clerks, all stakeholders and all the officials for their work on bringing the Bill to the Floor and delivering tax cuts to the people of the United Kingdom. I commend the Bill to the House.

17:59
James Murray Portrait James Murray
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As I have made clear throughout the Bill’s consideration, Labour supports the national insurance reductions that it seeks to deliver. I am disappointed, however, that Conservative MPs voted to block our new clause. Since the Chancellor announced the Conservatives’ plan to abolish national insurance contributions last week, Ministers have refused again and again—including today—to say how that will be funded or what impact it will have. We believe people deserve to know what impact the Conservatives’ £46 billion unfunded tax plan will have on pensioners and their pensions, on public services and on the health of our economy. Our new clause would have required the Government to come clean and be honest with the British public. Instead, Ministers have decided to vote against us and stick to their reckless and irresponsible unfunded tax plan.

It is still not clear how this reckless commitment to abolishing national insurance will be funded or what impact it will have on pensioners, pensions, public services, borrowing or the state of our economy. But what is clearer than ever is that the Conservatives are the party of reckless, irresponsible, unfunded tax plans that threaten our economy, our public services and the finances of households across the country. Only Labour will bring stability and the responsible approach our economy needs and only a general election will give the British people the chance to vote for change.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call Scottish National party spokesperson Kirsty Blackman.

18:00
Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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We do not support this change. This cut disproportionately benefits those earning the most. We in the SNP recognise the value that the public sector provides. We believe it should be properly funded to deliver our vital public services, and we do not believe that they can cope with more cuts on the back of 14 years of austerity and the trials of Brexit and the pandemic. We want excellent public services for all, and we are not scared to make that absolutely clear.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

18:01

Division 94

Ayes: 293

Noes: 41

Bill read the Third time and passed.

National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No. 2) Bill

Second Reading
20:13
Moved by
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No. 2) Bill

Committee stage & Report stage & 3rd reading
Tuesday 19th March 2024

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) Act 2024 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 13 March 2024 - (13 Mar 2024)
Committee (and remaining stages)
15:50
Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to the Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. With the agreement of the Committee, I will now report the Bill to the House without amendment, and the House will now resume.

House resumed. Bill reported without amendment. Report and Third Reading agreed without debate. Bill passed.

Royal Assent

Royal Assent
Wednesday 20th March 2024

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
15:06
Royal Assent was notified for the following Acts:
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act,
National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) Act,
Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Act,
Bishop’s Stortford Cemetery Act.