(Clauses 5, 6, 8 to 10, 15, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23, 38 to 42, 46, 47, 61, 62, 68 to 78, 83, 89 and 90, schedules 3, 4, 7, 8, 15 and 18 and certain new clauses and new schedules)
[1st Allocated Day]
Considered in Committee
[Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]
Basic rate limit and personal allowance
I beg to move amendment 6, page 2, line 24, leave out subsection (4).
This amendment would take out provisions removing the legal link between the personal allowance and the national minimum wage.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clauses 5 and 6 stand part.
Clauses 8 to 10 stand part.
Clause 38 stand part.
That schedule 15 be the Fifteenth schedule to the Bill.
Clauses 39 to 42 stand part.
New clause 1—Additional rate threshold and supplementary rate—
“The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, no later than 5 April 2019, lay before the House of Commons a distributional analysis of—
(a) the effect of reducing the threshold for the additional rate to £80,000, and
(b) the effect of introducing a supplementary rate of income tax, charged at a rate of 50%, above a threshold of £125,000.”
New clause 2—Impact of provisions of section 5 on child poverty and equality—
“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of the provisions of section 5 and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.
(2) A review under this section must consider the impact of the changes made by section 5 on—
(a) households at different levels of income,
(b) people with protected characteristics (within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010),
(c) the Treasury’s compliance with the public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010,
(d) different parts of the United Kingdom and different regions of England, and
(e) levels of relative and absolute child poverty in the United Kingdom.
(3) In this section—
‘parts of the United Kingdom’ means—
(c) Wales, and
(d) Northern Ireland;
‘regions of England’ has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.”
New clause 3—Review of the effectiveness of entrepreneurs’ relief—
“(1) Within twelve months of the passing of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effectiveness of the changes made to entrepreneurs’ relief by Schedule 15, against the stated policy aims of that relief.
(2) A review under this section must consider—
(a) the overall number of entrepreneurs in the UK,
(b) the annual cost of entrepreneurs’ relief,
(c) the annual number of claimants per year,
(d) the average cost of relief paid per claim, and
(e) the impact on productivity in the UK economy.”
New clause 7—Review of changes to entrepreneurs’ relief—
“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact on investment in parts of the United Kingdom and regions of England of the changes made to entrepreneur’s relief by Schedule 15 to this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.
(2) A review under this section must consider—
(a) the effects of the provisions on business investment,
(b) the effects of the provisions on employment, and
(c) the effects of the provisions on productivity.
(3) In this section—
‘parts of the United Kingdom’ means—
(c) Wales, and
(d) Northern Ireland;
‘regions of England’ has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.”
This new clause would require a review of the impact on investment of the changes made to entrepreneurs’ relief which extend the minimum qualifying period from 12 months to 2 years.
New clause 8—Review of geographical effects of provisions of section 9—
“The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the differential geographical effects of the changes made by section 9 and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”
This new clause would require a geographical impact assessment of income tax exemptions relating to private use of an emergency vehicle.
New clause 9—Report on consultation on certain provisions of this Act—
“(1) No later than two months after the passing of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before the House of Commons a report on the consultation undertaken on the provisions in subsection (2).
(2) Those provisions are—
(a) section 5,
(b) section 6,
(c) section 8,
(d) section 9,
(e) section 10,
(f) Schedule 15,
(g) section 39
(h) section 40,
(i) section 41, and
(j) section 42.
(3) A report under this section must specify in respect of each provision listed in subsection (2)—
(a) whether a version of the provision was published in draft,
(b) if so, whether changes were made as a result of consultation on the draft, and
(c) if not, the reasons why the provision was not published in draft and any consultation which took place on the proposed provision in the absence of such a draft.”
This new clause would require a report on the consultation undertaken on certain provisions of this Act – alongside new clauses 11, 13 and 15.
New clause 18—Review of public health and poverty effects of Basic Rate Limit and Personal Allowance—
“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the public health and poverty effects of the provisions of section 5 to this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.
(2) A review under this section must consider—
(a) the effects of those provisions on the levels of relative and absolute poverty in the UK,
(b) the effects of those provisions on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy in the UK, and
(c) the implications for the public finances of the public health effects of those provisions.”
New clause 19—Personal allowance—
“The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, no later than 5 April 2019, lay before the House of Commons an analysis of the distributional and other effects of a personal allowance in 2019-20 of £12,750.”
This new clause would require a distributional analysis of the effect of increasing the personal allowance to £12,750.
What a pleasure it is, Mr Deputy Speaker, to speak first in this debate. I very much appreciate the way the selection has worked out in my favour today. I rise to speak to amendment 6 and new clauses 7, 8, 9 and 19 in my name and the names of my SNP colleagues. For the avoidance of doubt, should the Opposition press new clause 1, new clause 3, or new clause 18, we will support them.
As I am sure that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and those on the Treasury Bench will be unsurprised to hear, I would like to start by raising my concerns about the process. It is the case that the personal allowance is reserved while matters relating to the upper limit of basic rate taxation are devolved. I therefore have issues with the way that clause 5 is constructed. I request, as I did on Second Reading, that in future years these two sections of the Finance Bill are split and considered separately. I hope that the Minister and officials will take that on board in drafting future Finance Bills. It would make the debate cleaner and easier to follow for MPs and for those outside the House. As I have said previously, there are real issues with the way that the House scrutinises both tax and spending measures, and this would be a simple change that would ensure that better scrutiny could be brought to bear on these matters.
Amendment 6 would take out provisions removing the legal link between the personal allowance and the national minimum wage. The legal link between the two was put in place to kick in in years where the personal allowance was below £12,500. I have two concerns with the removal of this link. First, we have no guarantee that the personal allowance will not in future be reduced to less than £12,500, because this House cannot bind a future House of Commons and a future Government might decide to reduce, rather than increase, the personal allowance.
Secondly, the minimum wage that is in place still discriminates on the basis of age. It is not fair that those under 25 are paid less than those over 25, yet the UK Government are backing this age discrimination. I do not believe that an over 25-year-old can live on the minimum wage as it is set, and neither does the Living Wage Foundation. I also do not believe that a 16-year-old who might reasonably have the same outgoings as somebody over 25 can live on £4.35 an hour. It is also depressing to note that 16 and 17-year-olds have had an increase of only 3.6% in their minimum wage while the rise for those aged over 25 is 4.9%. I do not understand how the UK Government can justify that, and I think they should remove the age discrimination in relation to the minimum wage so that everybody is paid a fair wage and the minimum wage is enough to live on, instead of being at a level that people cannot live on.
I of course support my hon. Friend’s point on increasing the minimum wage for under-25s. Is she aware that the gap between the rate for 16 and 17-year-olds and the higher rate has widened over the past three years?
I am not surprised that that has happened, because any Government who believe that a 16-year-old can live on less than an over 25-year-old are not going to make rational decisions in relation to pay for those at the younger end of the age spectrum. It would be a very good move if the UK Government were to change their policy and move to a situation where 16 and 17-year-olds, and those all the way up to 25, and in fact those over 25, were paid an amount they could actually live on, rather than an amount that does not enable them to buy the day-to-day essentials.
This is a small, but I think important, point: does the hon. Lady accept that that minimum level is exactly what it says—a minimum level? Many people, including my apprentice, earn far more than that, but if we set the level much higher, we are likely to reduce the number of opportunities available to 16 and 17-year-olds.
I do not believe that that is true. I know somebody who went for a job interview, and at the end of it they were offered the job. The person offering them the job actually said, “How old are you, because I want to see how little I can pay you?” Those decisions are being taken because of the discriminatory nature of the way the minimum wage is set. What we should have—and this is an argument I have made to the Government on a huge number of occasions on a number of different things—is a situation where those on the bottom of the pile are protected first, and then we should get rid of discriminatory practices where people might discriminate against 16 and 17-year-olds. I would raise the bar, rather than lower it; that is generally an argument I have made to the UK Government.
New clause 19, which we hope to push to a vote today, proposes that the Chancellor brings forward a report that analyses the distributional and other effects of a rise in the personal allowance to £12,750 in 2019-20. It is Scottish National party policy that the personal allowance be raised to £12,750. Given the increasing, and staggering, levels of in-work poverty, given the UN report criticising the UK Government’s implementation of austerity, and given the fact that millions of families across the UK have savings of less than £100, increasing the personal allowance even by a small amount will have an impact on the individuals and families who are struggling the most.
It is no incentive to work if we know that when we work we will still not be able to get out of all-consuming poverty. We need a UK Government who recognise that those who earn the least are suffering the most. In Scotland, the SNP has recognised that and we have made progressive changes to the tax system.
I do not want to live in a country where children are going hungry. The UK Government have got their head firmly in the sand on this issue. I do not understand how they can continue along this track when we are having people come into our surgeries in tears because they have not eaten in days.
The hon. Lady is right. There are probably between 3 million and 4 million people in this country on poverty wages and a large number of them are driven to use food banks. Food banks were introduced for people waiting to get their refugee status sorted out, not for this purpose. Does the hon. Lady agree that they have, however, now become an institution in this country?
I absolutely agree and will come on to food banks, but on refugees and those seeking leave to remain in the UK, these are the people I see in my surgeries in the highest levels of poverty. They cannot work because the UK Government are not allowing them to, even though they have a valid immigration application. Concerns have been raised with me about individuals whose children are literally starving as a result of the UK Government saying that they cannot work or have recourse to public funds. This is a hostile environment that is impacting directly on the lives of children. The UK Government need to rethink. The bar should be set where children are not starving as a result, and then we can take action against those who are trying to swizz the system.
The only decent meal that some children receive is the meal that they have at school. The UK Government cannot continue to say that food bank use is increasing in European countries too, as if that somehow makes it okay. They have a responsibility to step up and to change the tax system, the minimum wage and the social security system to ensure that no child ever goes hungry.
Our new clause 7 would require a review of the impact on investment of changes to entrepreneurs’ relief, which extend the minimum qualifying period from 12 months to two years. Given that we have Brexit hanging over us and the massive uncertainty that that brings, putting another hurdle in the way of businesses is probably not the right course of action. Both the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Association of Taxation Technicians have raised concerns about the unintended consequences of the change. I believe that a review is the only sensible option going forward. The Treasury regularly makes tax changes, but it does not regularly review their effectiveness, even after they have been in place for a number of years, and when it does it rarely makes those reviews public. It is all well and good to think that something may have a certain effect, but it is necessary to check whether the intended effect has come about. If such changes are made, a review should be undertaken regularly—certainly in the following two years—and it should be made public, in the interests of transparency and good policy making, so that everybody can see not just that the change has taken place, but what its effect has been, so that we are up front and honest and everybody is clear.
New clause 8 concerns the geographical effect of clause 9. The UK Government often fail to recognise the rurality of many of Scotland’s communities, and I am not clear that this change will not have a significant effect on those in our most remote communities. These are places where it is hard to get the staff we need for our life-saving services and where depopulation is a real and ever-present concern. They are also places that will be hit incredibly hard by ending freedom of movement. Given the hit to our crofters over the convergence uplift that was supposed to be given to rural communities in Scotland but was allocated elsewhere, it is clear that the UK Government are not prioritising our rural communities. They need to sense-check any such proposals and change them to ensure that they do not cause further difficulty for those living in our most remote areas, not just in Scotland but in other areas of the UK where being far from centres of population is an issue.
New clause 9 would require a report on the consultation undertaken on certain provisions of the Bill. Glyn Fullelove, the chair of the Chartered Institute of Taxation’s technical committee, has been critical of a number of measures in the Bill that were not previously consulted on, saying:
“The effects of inadequate scrutiny in the past are visible in the amount of tinkering in the new Bill”.
That is something I raised on Second Reading. He goes on:
“would all these tweaks have been necessary if there had been adequate consultation and more thorough scrutiny in the first place?”
If the Government intend to take back control, they need to ensure that control is in the hands of MPs, with adequate advice provided by expert stakeholders. It cannot be appropriate for tax changes to be drafted by officials and put into a Bill by the UK Government, with no opportunity for stakeholders to give oral evidence, no amendment of the law resolution and a total lack of a review of these clauses. That is not a sensible way to run anything, let alone a country. I have severe concerns about this part of the Bill. My concerns are mostly about transparency and process, as well as the lack of scrutiny of many of the measures.
In relation to the changes to personal allowance, the Government have not been progressive. We would expect that from a Conservative Government, but if they look up the road in Scotland, they will see that the changes that we have made have benefited the people at the bottom of the pile. The UK Government need to do more to benefit those people.
Lastly, the UK Government need to take seriously the fact that the personal allowance is not devolved to Scotland but the basic rate is, and changes need to be made. I would appreciate it if the Minister committed to considering making changes in the drafting of the Bill to separate out the devolved and reserved issues, so that we can have proper debates and better read-across, so that we can have transparency in the discussion of tax and spend in this place and so that we can make better laws as a result.
It is an enormous pleasure to speak in this Committee stage of the Finance (No.3) Bill, and it is an even greater pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) in today’s debate. There are always many responses to a Budget and a Finance Act, and people often look at them and pull them apart over time. In this case, however, I think most people would say that the Budget and Finance Bill have been tremendously well received among financial commentators and many pressure groups. One of the areas that have been most well received is the bringing forward by a year of the increases to personal allowances. The increase to £12,500 for basic rate taxpayers and £50,000 for the higher—40p—taxpayers will make a direct impact on the lives of 32 million of our fellow residents.
Is my hon. Friend absolutely delighted, as I am, that this means that a basic rate taxpayer is paying some £1,200 less in tax, on an annual basis, than they were in 2010?
My hon. Friend is correct. The very recent change will benefit basic rate taxpayers to the tune of £120 a year—a direct tax cut for millions of hard-working Britons—and that is to be welcomed.
Does my hon. Friend—I nearly called him my right hon. Friend, but he is not yet; perhaps he will be in the future—agree that the difference in the figures is stark? The personal allowance was £6,475 when this policy kicked in in 2010, and it has gone way up to £12,500. Surely, that is of huge benefit to the people we want to give more money to.
I thank my hon. Friend for that short intervention. She makes a really good point, and it is almost the next point that I was going to make. The personal allowance will have nearly doubled in just eight short years. That is against a backdrop of trying to get the public finances under control from a debt of £152 billion a year—11% of GDP—which is an astronomical level outside wartime. It represents a real achievement for the Government to have been able to put this amount of money into the pockets of millions of hard-working Britons each year, so that their living standards can rise, despite the difficult decisions we have had to make.
Members from all parts of the House will probably know that I am no particular lover of the Liberal Democrats, and I am pleased to say that in my constituency of Solihull, we are now 24,000 votes ahead of them. However, I pay tribute to them in one respect. In the 2010 coalition agreement, we took on board what the Lib Dems had been proposing, and it was an excellent idea. I am pleased that the Conservative party was open enough to take on that idea and follow it through, from the coalition agreement, to raise those standards of living and raise personal allowances. I pay tribute to that sort of ideas process from the coalition. We have carried it on, as we see it as a key way in which to reduce inequality and expand opportunity.
The £50,000 higher rate tax threshold is also being delivered a year early. Opposition Members often criticise the new threshold, saying it is a tax cut for wealthier people and so on, but it will be taking many thousands of people whom one would not think should be paying the higher rate out of paying 40% income tax. For example, deputy headmasters and headteachers often earn more than the £50,000 threshold. It is wrong that so many hard-working public and private sector workers are dragged into the higher rate of tax. Furthermore, that has a damaging effect on the overall productivity of the economy, because someone who could earn extra by doing extra overtime, taking on a second job, or doing consultancy or freelance work is less likely to do so if they think the tax authorities would take half the money they would earn by doing so. This measure is therefore eminently sensible, to prevent the most productive in our economy from being penalised in this way and to allow them to continue to earn. We have seen fiscal drag in this country over the past 17 years, since the end of the first Blair Government’s sticking to the Major Government’s financial strategy. Since then, the fiscal drag has meant that more and more people who should not have been paying the 40% rate of tax have been dragged into it. I am pleased that has been acknowledged by this Government with this measure, and I am happy to support it this evening.
Labour Members have also talked about reducing the advanced rate threshold to £80,000, which is a fool’s errand. We know from history that, in general, when we penalise at the top end, our tax take comes down. Putting dogma aside, we know there is a sweet spot in the taxation system, where we should try to maximise our revenues while supporting productivity and ensuring there are sufficient incentives in the tax system. The placing of the original advanced rate was a political move in itself; for some 98% of the time that Gordon Brown was Chancellor or Prime Minister, he kept the rate at 40% and did not increase it, because he saw the reality of the situation, which is that the more we allow people to keep of their own money and the more they can keep in their pocket, the better it is for the economy more widely and the greater the tax take. This was political manoeuvring in advance of the 2010 election in order for my party to fall into a bear trap by suggesting we would not decrease the advanced rate of tax.
I should make another point about reducing the advanced rate to £80,000. The amount of money that that would raise would be negligible, if not actually negative, and the number of spending commitments tied to that proposal are disproportionate to any sort of potential income that could be raised, even in the best-case scenario. So the tax allowances as they stand in respect of the basic rate and the advanced rate strike the right balance for our economy in the future.
My hon. Friend talks about the incentives created by reducing the tax on individuals, but does he agree that this has an impact on businesses, too? Where high street businesses such as my local ones in Cheltenham now have a lower tax burden, with one third coming off their business rates, that provides an incentive for them to take on new employees, grow their business and deliver a more prosperous high street?
My hon. Friend is completely correct. The realities are that the more tax people keep in their pockets—the more of their earnings they keep, without that money going through the Government filter—the more efficient it is, the better it is for the economy, and the better it is for what is known as the multiplier effect through a local economy. My hon. Friend’s on-the-ground view, reported here in Committee, is testament to why the process really benefits high streets and wider local economies.
My hon. Friend has not yet touched on this, but the Government have kept down the corporation tax rate. Does he agree that in areas such as the south-west, where productivity is on average lower than it is in the rest of the country, it is crucial that we leave more money in local businesses so that they can invest, which will help with skills and eventually raise productivity?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Not only does cutting corporation tax increase the tax take, as we know, but in the round it allows companies to employ more people—I think that it has made a major contribution to the jobs miracle in this country—which then feeds through the taxation system and the multiplier and into the economy more widely, thereby boosting growth and productivity, plus the tax take down the line.
The abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers of shared ownership properties worth more than £300,000 is an important step for our economy and for strivers in our country. We all know the difficulties that come about in respect of home ownership. I got my first home when I was 31—many years ago, I hasten to add—but I had to buy outside London to get on to the ladder. Even then, people were making enormous sacrifices to find their way on to the property ladder.
Frankly, the situation that I faced is nothing compared with what younger people face now. Not only is it now more difficult in respect of having the income required to get the amount of loan needed to buy, but many people have to rely on what is known as the bank of mum and dad. All that has a damaging effect on equality in our society and the passing down of wealth through the generations if we end up in a situation where those who gain housing wealth do so only if their fathers or mothers had that housing wealth themselves.
My hon. Friend is giving an important speech. Does he agree that in this context it is extremely important that we have embarked on the biggest programme of house building since the 1950s?
That is exactly right. The point may not be specifically germane to the amendments we are debating, but my hon. Friend is absolutely correct that about the context. This is just part of one strand of the strategy that we have to bring about an increase not only in home ownership but in the number of properties available to rent and basically for housing throughout the country. We know from the number of households that are forming that we need to build much more than we are building. This measure is part of considering the issues in the round, so I congratulate the Government in that respect.
We are now seeing the effects of things such as Help to Buy and of measures that—pardon the pun—build on Help to Buy, such as the abolition of stamp duty for shared ownership properties worth more than £300,000. According to the Financial Times—such an august newspaper that it never actually employed me—the rate of home ownership among first-time buyers is now at its highest in a decade. There is a long way to go before we get anywhere near where we were in the 1980s, for instance, but it has been a remarkable turnaround compared with where we were in 2010. The abolition of stamp duty for these properties sends a strong message, not only to people in shared ownership homes but to people more generally, that opportunities are out there and that we will help them by not imposing stamp duty.
Let me turn to tax fairness for individuals, which, I think, overarches the clauses and amendments to the Bill. We would not know this from hearing some of the arguments in this place, but the tax gap in the UK is one of the lowest in the developed world. That does not mean that there is not more to be done. Although we took some first steps in this Budget with internet companies and with organisations such as Amazon, everyone recognises that we need to go further, and we hope to move together in an international context to ensure tax fairness.
Since 2010, we have seen a cracking down on evasion—for example, in film investment schemes and schemes that collectively invest in property to avoid stamp duty. There has been a real concentration by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Treasury Ministers to ensure that people are aware that everyone should be paying their fair share in society. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) mentioned tax equality and how much people are paying at the top end. I find it very telling that the top 1% in our society currently pay 28% of the tax, whereas the top 10% pay 60% of the tax. People would not believe that given the discussions that go on so often. However, this Government have done more towards closing that tax gap and towards ensuring equality in the tax system than anyone else in my lifetime. They have been very laser-like in their focus, and they should be congratulated on that.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that gap will get wider if answers to my written questions are correct? In answer to a parliamentary question that I tabled, the Government admitted that the majority of their tax cuts would go to upper-rate taxpayers. Is that not exactly why we need the Government to publish the distributional impact of the tax cuts they are making?
I am afraid that I really do not see the hon. Lady’s point. What I do see is the fact that we are giving tax cuts to 32 million people across the board, and, instead of being so churlish, the Labour party should welcome that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Lady should check Hansard to see my question of a few moments ago in which I said that, since 2010, a basic rate taxpayer will pay £1,200 less in tax, which clearly shows that this Government are on the side of the hardest working?
My hon. Friend answered the hon. Lady’s intervention better than I did, so I do welcome what he said.
Let me sum up. In its treatment of tax thresholds and stamp duty, the Bill lays out a fairer tax system. It is a tax system predicated on a better society, and it is a system where people who can pay have to pay their fair share, but where that is achieved without being punitive and without, frankly, trying to put dogma over the reality of the situation.
I am glad to have this opportunity to debate the issues surrounding new clauses 1, 2 and 3 in my name and the names of others in the Committee of the whole House, and to discuss them in the context of the Government’s attempts to distract attention from their woes. We have just had a lesson in voodoo economics from the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight).
Members need to pay attention to Labour’s proposals in relation to new clauses 1, 2 and 3, but I must first point out that, in response to the Government’s authoritarian restrictions on amending this Bill, we had asked whether the entire legislation could be debated on the Floor of this House. That would at least have ensured a scintilla of constructive discussion among Members on the whole Bill. Alas, our request was denied by the Government, and we are left yet again asking for reviews and assessments as set out in our new clauses. It is important none the less to get these issues about child poverty out into the open. The Government increasingly seek to implement their austerity agenda—for that is what it is—behind closed doors. They will no doubt see our new clauses as an irritant that would highlight the differences between a slash-and-burn approach to public services by the Government juxtaposed with a policy of investment, renewal and rebuilding from this party based on a fair taxation system, as identified in our new clauses.
The Government have practised their manoeuvres in Committees that they have stitched up to give themselves the majority, which they do not deserve, and they do not have the guts to allow proper amendments to their Bill. No Minister has had the decency to defend that position and it is pretty pathetic. The electorate did not give them that mandate, but they arrogantly take it in any event, so it is important that we debate and tease out the issues that we have set out in new clauses 1, 2 and 3.
The hon. Gentleman mentions tax cuts. Will he describe whether the Opposition support the tax cuts laid out in the Bill?
The hon. Gentleman was that busy talking about sizzling sausages and Marxism last week that he did not hear what I had to say. Now, it is not for me to constantly repeat myself—although I know the Tories do it all the time—so I suggest he reads last week’s debate in Hansard.
Luckily, I am pleased to see that even these mendacious measures are not enough to prevent this Government from a slow-motion collapse. The twists and turns continue. If the weekend reports in the media—specifically The Sunday Times—are anything to believe, if this House votes against the deal, No. 10 has a
“dark strategy to twist arms.”
So what is the cunning plan? Well, No. 10 seeks to
“encourage a crash in financial markets after losing a first vote in the hope this stampedes MPs into voting for it a second time”.
This is ordinarily known as extra-parliamentary activity. The fact that the media are actually putting that scuttlebutt into print, however bizarre, simply shows the desperation in No. 10, so it is important that we do tease out the issues, as we will with new clauses 1, 2 and 3, but this situation bears witness to the siege mentality now at pathological—some might even say clinically obsessive—levels in Downing Street.
I am sure that my hon. Friend, like me, was glued to the television at 10 o’clock last night, watching a documentary “A Northern Soul”, about a man called Steve living in poverty in Hull and his inspiring work to help the children living in that city. I therefore give my hon. Friend my wholehearted support in particular for new clause 2, which would provide for a tax impact assessment to look at how we can genuinely help people like Steve who have suffered so badly under this Government.
My hon. Friend is right. I am afraid that the Government are in denial over the question of child poverty; I will come back to that point shortly.
Quite simply, the Prime Minister and those around her have lost the plot; and there have been plenty of plots recently. This Government would not know progress if it stared them in the face, which is why we need new clauses 1, 2 and 3. It is little wonder that the Government have presided over eight years of economic ineptitude that have seen our tax system and society becoming increasingly unequal.
As I said on Second Reading, Labour will not stand in the way of any change that would put additional income into the pockets of low and middle earners. Maybe that answers the question of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty), so he might not have to look at Hansard. Low and middle earners have borne the brunt of the economic failure of this Government and we will not take that cash out of their pockets. However, we believe that the richest in our society and those with the broadest shoulders should pay more tax to help support our public services and finally end austerity. This is not a controversial view, at least among the morally orthodox.
The hon. Gentleman mentions tax increase. If Labour were to put in its plans for a wholesale renationalisation of major parts of our economy, how much extra tax would the average British taxpayer be paying?
Dear, dear—none. The hon. Gentleman really has to take his nose out of the Tory voodoo economics book, widen his horizons and look at Labour’s “Funding Britain’s Future”.
One only needs to look at our European neighbours to see that the rate of tax on higher earners in this country is relatively low compared with Germany, France, Sweden and even Ireland. To set the ball rolling, Labour’s new clause 1 would require the Chancellor to lay before the House a distributional analysis of the effect of reducing the tax threshold for the additional rate to £80,000 and introducing a 50% supplementary rate for those earning more than £125,000 a year.
These are Labour’s policies, committed to in Labour’s very, very popular manifesto of 2017. They will put—[Interruption.] I know that Government Members do not like to hear this, but these policies will put the country on a much fairer fiscal footing, ensuring that the wealthy pay their fair share for the restoration of our social fabric, which is crumbling after eight years of gruelling Tory austerity.
The fact is that since the financial crash a decade ago, the very rich have only become richer. The Institute for Fiscal Studies identified that the top 1% have received an increase in share of total income from 5.7% in 1990 to 7.8% in 2016. In response to the hon. Member for Aldershot, it is no wonder they are paying more taxes—they have had the biggest share of total income.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that this Government are determined to tackle these important issues of income inequality, to the point where income inequality and inequality of disposable income are now at their lowest level since before the financial crisis, when his party were managing the economy?
Well, they are not making a very good job of it—there are 4 million people in poverty. That is the fact. Conservative Members can deny that until they are blue in the face, but that is the reality.
Let us move on to the issue of infant mortality. Infant mortality has risen for the first time since the 1990s, when the Tories were last in government, and, as I indicated, there are 4.5 million people living in poverty. That is a fact, and they should not pretend otherwise. They should at least have the guts to admit that their policies have got us into this situation.
This stark contrast in living standards has been driven by the Government’s remorseless austerity agenda, which has chopped away at our fiscal checks and balances. By narrowing the tax base while continuing austerity, they have entrenched poverty and inequality across the nations and regions, leaving vulnerable groups—particularly women—worse off.
My hon. Friend is making a really important point, and it is reflected in the changes to life expectancy that we have seen over the last eight years. Life expectancy for the poorest women in Sheffield has fallen by four years since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. Is that not a further reflection of the devastating impact of austerity on inequality in this country?
Quite simply, it is shameful—it is as simple as that.
New clause 2 would require the Treasury to undertake an equalities impact assessment of the changes to the personal allowance and its impact particularly on child poverty. This assessment will include households at different income levels, groups protected by the public sector equality duty and the regions and nations—this is the Labour party speaking for the whole of the United Kingdom.
Such an assessment is needed now more than ever. The Social Metrics Commission recently found, as I indicated before, that 4.5 million children are living in poverty in the United Kingdom. That is shameful. The Government claim that none of this matters as long as parents are finding work, which ignores the fact that work is no longer a sustainable route out of poverty. Indeed, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that more than two thirds of children in poverty live in a working family.
We know that the assessment set out in new clause 2 will further justify the United Nations special rapporteur’s investigation into this Government’s policy of austerity last week. The poverty envoy found that the policies of austerity had inflicted “great misery” on our citizens, and he went as far as to say that the “fabric of British society” is falling apart as a result. That is absolutely damning.
The hon. Gentleman is talking a lot about the politics of austerity. The United Kingdom last lived within its means in 2001. Under a Labour Government, when would the United Kingdom next live within its means?
I do not accept the premise of these trumped-up ideas from voodoo economics presented by the Tory party. The reality is that the report was absolutely damning. It was absolutely devastating, and Government Members should be ashamed that somebody from the United Nations should come to this country and objectively lay out the facts as they are.
Sadly, in true Trumpian style, the Government chose to ignore the UN special rapporteur. Live on “Channel 4 News”, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury buried his head in the sand, saying
“there is a…strong push to reduce poverty”.
Well, it is not getting pushed hard enough. The Financial Secretary refused to acknowledge that there are 1.5 million people living in destitution, despite repeated questioning. A cursory look at this Government’s policies demonstrates that, for eight years, they have felt it was reasonable to punish the poorest to let the bankers off the hook. How can this Government be so out of touch?
I now turn to new clause 3. According to HMRC’s own statistics, over £400 billion a year is spent in tax reliefs. Entrepreneurs’ relief costs £2.7 billion a year alone, and benefits only 52,000 people.
The hon. Gentleman is very generous in giving way a second time. If Labour Members were to get back into power, would they change the tax system so that people had to pay tax from £6,750, as in 2010? Does he agree that that would cost working people an additional £1,000-plus a year?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the shadow City Minister’s article on LabourList, which sets that out very clearly.
I’ll send you a copy.
My hon. Friend will send the hon. Gentleman a copy and he will sign it—and Conservative Members might actually learn something. I know it is difficult for my hon. Friends to grasp the concept that Conservative Members might learn something, but they actually might.
Entrepreneurs’ relief costs £2.7 billion a year alone, and benefits only 52,000 people. This bloated relief—and it is bloated—is overwhelmingly spent on a small number of wealthy individuals, with 6,000 claimants receiving relief on gains of over £1 million. I will repeat that: 6,000 claimants receive relief on gains of £1 million. It is no wonder then that the IFS and the Resolution Foundation have called for it to be scrapped. Clause 38 and schedule 15 represent yet another Conservative half-measure.
As a former entrepreneur, as in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, I did not benefit from this particular relief, but many in that community do benefit from it. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that this should be scrapped, which would penalise people who start businesses in this country and go on to employ people who then pay taxes and put food on the table for their families? Is the position of the Labour party to be completely anti-entrepreneurs?
The Treasury has not reviewed the relief and does not know whether it is working, but it has chucked £2.7 billion—I repeat, £2.7 billion—at a relief that affects only 52,000 people. There is something not quite right with that. I get that and my hon. Friends get that, but Conservative Members are in denial about it, as they are about child poverty.
Given that the hon. Gentleman is against relief for entrepreneurs, will he tell the Committee whether he is also against small businesses being relieved of their rates, with business rates being slashed by one third? [Interruption.]
Out of courtesy I will respond to the hon. Gentleman. What we want is a fair taxation system, which is completely and utterly alien to the Government. It is as simple as that.
My hon. Friend pointed out that the Government are in denial on child poverty. That is absolutely clear in my constituency in Barnsley, where 6,000 children live in poverty. Does he agree that poverty is a political choice caused by the Conservative party?
My hon. Friend is right, and for the Tories that choice comes first, second and third, and it always will.
On one hand the Government are lengthening the qualifying time for investors from one year to two, but on the other hand they are ensuring that shareholders will be protected from falling below the 5% threshold needed to claim the relief when a company is sold. It is hard to see how this confused measure will tackle the growing cost of the relief.
Naturally, the Opposition, the Resolution Foundation and the IFS are not the only ones who have found this measure perplexing to say the least. The Chartered Institute of Taxation has raised deep concerns about its retroactive nature, its lack of clarity and the likelihood that the reforms will hit small businesses the hardest—the businesses that the hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) no doubt had in mind in her intervention. Far from making the relief more equitable, this measure will instead insulate wealthier claimants who can rely on expensive tax advisers to navigate red tape, ensuring that the cost of the relief will continue to bloom.
The cost of corporate welfare has risen steadily under this Conservative Government. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is the one form of welfare that Government Members support. In contrast, the Labour party is committed to undertaking a full and comprehensive review of corporate tax reliefs when—not if—we reach government. That is why we have tabled new clause 3, which would require the Government to undertake a full review of entrepreneurs’ relief. The review would consider the overall number of entrepreneurs in the United Kingdom, the annual cost of the relief, the cost per claim and the impact of the relief on productivity in the UK—productivity that is 15% below our comparators in the G7 and 35% below the Germans. The Government should be getting to grips with that fact, not fiddling around with entrepreneurs’ relief.
Government Members should ask themselves how they can justify the amount of money going to 52,000 people while our public services are falling into disrepair. This relief is clearly in need of urgent review to ensure that the taxpayer is not being ripped off. They should be clear that if they choose to vote against new clause 3, they are voting against the interests of taxpayers across the country. Again, this is £2.7 billion for 52,000 people.
I hope that Government Members will support our new clauses 1, 2 and 3, for the reasons that I have outlined. This authoritarian Government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich have lost all credibility to manage the affairs of this country. They no longer know what they stand for, nor do they have the courage to find out. This Bill of broken promises takes us no further forward in meeting this country’s mounting challenges, so I call on Members throughout the House to support Labour’s proposals to create a fairer society and a fairer tax system. If we are unable to change the Government’s course, we will challenge the Bill at every step of the way, notwithstanding the authoritarian shackles put on us by this authoritarian Government, and we will use it to put an end to this aimless and divided Government.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), although there were moments during his speech when I found myself wondering whether history was being rewritten in a remarkably creative way.
The changes that the Government have proposed come against a background of remarkable achievement in cutting the deficit by four fifths, reducing the unemployment rate to its lowest since the 1970s, giving 32 million people tax cuts and taking 1.7 million out of income tax altogether. Some of those things were denied by the hon. Gentleman, who claimed at one point that the rich were only getting richer. I think it therefore falls to me to offer a few statistics to put his comments into context.
The first comes from the Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis of what went on under the previous Labour Government. The hon. Gentleman, who is chuntering with his colleague the shadow Chancellor, should focus on that IFS analysis. The independent analysis from the IFS shows very clearly that on most measures income inequality during the 13 years of the previous Labour Government went up. Part of the reason for that was explained, helpfully, by the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) in an interesting interview with The Guardian the other day. He pointed out that the attitude of the previous Labour Government was, to quote the former deputy Prime Minister, Lord Mandelson, “intensely relaxed” about the filthy rich. The hon. Member for Norwich South rightly went on to say that during the 13 years of the Labour Government:
“The huge fortunes of those at the very top…were left almost untouched.”
That is why the work done by this Government, which for example includes scrapping child benefit in 2013 for those earning over £50,000, has led to the lowest tax gap for a very long time. The percentage of income tax paid by the top 1% has doubled under the Conservative Government. The hon. Member for Bootle therefore needs to think hard about that IFS analysis. Income inequality went up under the 13 years of the Labour Government and it has gone down in eight years under the Conservatives.
There are other points worth highlighting. For example, people on lower and middle incomes actually have more money in their pockets now than at the start of the financial crisis under the previous Labour Government. The gap, as I pointed out, between those on the lowest and highest incomes is lower than it was when the Labour Government left power in 2010. In fact, income inequality is now close to its lowest point since 1986. That is a remarkable achievement. Over the past 30 years, which include 13 of a Labour Government, income inequality narrowed sharply under this Conservative Government.
Labour Members have made a lot of points about employment, so it is worth highlighting that the growth in employment benefits most the poorest 20% of households. The employment rate is now up by more than seven percentage points on where it was before the financial crisis under Labour in 2007. Thanks to the national living wage, the income of the lowest earners has actually grown by almost 5% since 2015, higher than at any other point across the earnings distribution. The actual situation today in our economy for those working is therefore very different to that painted by those on the Opposition Benches and by the hon. Gentleman.
A crucial and major difference between the Labour party and the Government is on taxing business. The uncomfortable truth for Opposition Members who would like to tax business more is that since the Government cut corporation tax in 2010 receipts have gone up by 50%, generating an extra £20 billion in 2016 over what was generated in 2010. The extra £20 billion we found for the NHS above inflation for this five-year period does not come from nowhere; it comes from increased receipts and growth in the economy. That extra £20 billion raised from corporation tax, as a result of cutting corporation tax, is one of the critical economic differences between those on the Government side of the House and those on the Opposition side. The Opposition still believe that if they tax businesses more they will get more tax. The truth, however, is that if we tax businesses less we incentivise business and entrepreneurs, generating more tax receipts to put into our vital public services.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that £20 billion happens to be exactly the same amount of extra money that the Government have pledged to put into our national health service?
Exactly. The figures are a coincidence, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that we are putting the same amount of extra money into the NHS—the largest ever amount invested into our national health service.
My hon. Friend is painting a very lucid picture of how the Government differ to the Opposition with regard to tax, but does he agree that that also applies to our approach to private property? The discussion that the Labour party is having about the wholesale renationalisation of major parts of our economy is deeply alarming, and it should come clean to the public about how much that would actually cost.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The remark made by the shadow Chancellor earlier that the public—all our constituents—would have to pay zero extra to fund the widespread nationalisation of all the utility companies, the train companies and anything else was really quite extraordinary. To be honest, I would be surprised if somebody did not raise that on a point of order in terms of misleading the House and the nation, because clearly those figures are a mile away from what independent analysts have calculated.
Has the shadow Chancellor not been on record stating that it does not matter if his sums do not add up, and that it is largely irrelevant, which demonstrates my hon. Friend’s point?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As she knows well, the truth of the last Labour Government—during their 13 years—was that although they promised no more boom and bust, they gave us the biggest bust in peacetime history as a result of wildly overspending. I am afraid the net result of that is, as always, that the poorest feel the effects worst. In my constituency of Gloucester, 6,000 people lost their jobs during the great recession under Labour. Only since the Conservative Government came back have we seen employment rise sharply and youth unemployment and unemployment fall sharply.
I will not repeat the debate that we always have about a global financial crisis not being solely contained in the UK, but on the earlier intervention that the hon. Gentleman took, the shadow Chancellor is not on the record as saying that his sums do not add up and that that does not matter. Let us remind the Committee that the only party who published costings of its policies at the election was Labour. It is genuinely misleading the Committee to claim that the shadow Chancellor said anything other than that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but will he confirm to the Committee what I heard the shadow Chancellor say earlier in answer to a question from one of my colleagues? He said that there would be zero additional cost to the taxpayer from the enormous, widespread renationalisation policy of Labour; will the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) confirm that there will not be a single penny of additional cost?
The shadow Chancellor did not speak from the Dispatch Box. I think the hon. Gentleman is thinking of the shadow Chief Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd)—the two should not be confused. On nationalisation, I think the point that my hon. Friend was trying to make is that we can simply look at British history to see how this works. If we take an asset into public ownership and the return from that asset is greater than the cost of the borrowing to take it on, there is no net cost to the taxpayer, and certainly, income tax will not have to rise to cover that.
Order. We are not having a debate on party policy. We have amendments and clauses before us and we are straying from them—I know you wanted to get through your speech very quickly, Mr Graham.
You are entirely right as always, Sir Lindsay. It was helpful to have it exposed that there is clearly a significant difference of opinion between the shadow Chief Secretary and the shadow Chancellor on whether there will be any additional costs from the policies of the Opposition—[Interruption.] I have taken a lot of interventions, so I will cease from taking them so that I can come, as you suggested Sir Lindsay, to a rapid closure, which I am sure will be welcomed by Opposition Members.
Having made the crucial point on our approach to investment in business, let me finish on the annual investment allowance, which is a crucial part of the Budget and the clauses under discussion. This is important because it encourages businesses to invest in expensive technology that, over time, will allow them to grow and employ more people. I could give a dozen examples from my constituency of where this has been true. To give it some flavour, I will highlight just one area. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde will know, having visited China with me last week, how far we have gone in increasing our exports to China. From Gloucester alone, we are exporting a huge number of manufactured goods, including the landing gear on all Airbus aircraft.
If the hon. Gentleman is so sure of his position, what is wrong with providing for a review of the effectiveness of entrepreneurs’ relief, as new clause 3 would do?
The hon. Gentleman is kind to mention that, but the fact is that we on the Government side of the House believe strongly in incentivising the entrepreneurs. They are the ones producing the technologies of the future—Fintech, Edtech, every sort of tech—and the reason why this country has seen more investment in technology in London alone in the last year than Germany, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands and France put together. These incentives to businesses are what generate the additional tax revenue I highlighted earlier.
The changes to gambling tax are among the most significant measures proposed. These are fundamentally about what is morally right, and I am delighted that the Government have found a way to do the right thing, not just by reducing the maximum stake for fixed odds betting terminals from £100 to £2, but by introducing it rapidly and by raising the remote gambling duty from 15% to 21%. If I could make one request of the excellent Minister, it would be that he consider other ways to reduce the amount of online gambling advertising and to raise more tax revenue from it.
This is an important discussion. Some of the facts offered earlier by the Opposition were completely astray from reality, and I strongly support what the Government are doing to incentive business, encourage more people into work and, above all, benefit the lowest earners. It is worth finishing with one last statistic from the OECD: the proportion of jobs that are low-paid is at its lowest level in this country for at least 20 years. That is a significant achievement on which we can hope to build yet further in the future.
I wish to say a few words about amendment 18, which would remove clause 5. I spoke on this at length on Second Reading, so I do not need to say a great deal.
The difficulty with clause 5 is that it combines two very different measures, the first being to lift the low earners threshold. As the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) reminded us a few minutes ago, this was a policy that I and my colleagues pursued in government, and it is not something I at all disagree with. The second, however, is a much more substantial measure to lift the tax threshold for middle earners. I do not pretend for a moment that people at the higher rate threshold are rich people—at the bottom end, they are paid less than Members of Parliament—but we need to get beyond the headlines and look at the actual numbers.
The lower threshold is to be lifted by £650, and 20% of that is £130, so the people solely on standard rate tax will get £130 in their pocket as a result of this measure. Of course, that is welcome. It is about a 2% increase, which is roughly in line with inflation, and is unquestionably a good thing. For the high earners threshold, however, we are talking about much bigger sums of money—a £3,650 increase in the threshold. Multiplied by 20%, and we are talking about £730, but of course high earners also benefit from the standard rate threshold increase. Add the two together and we have got £860. This measure, which is badged as a measure to help low earners, helps low earners to take home £130 a year and high earners £860 a year. On no conceivable measure could that be described as some enlightened policy for helping the low paid.
Having said that, I should add that there are things that the Government could have done as part of the policy of reducing fiscal drag. I fully understand the need at the margin to stop people being dragged into higher tax rates, and something could have been done to offset that. The Chancellor himself has acknowledged that there are extremely expensive and lavish tax reliefs on pension contributions for upper earners, which cost the country about £25 billion a year. I think that if he had chosen to offset the upper-rate threshold measure by some reduction in pension tax relief for the high paid, such that it neutralised it, many of us would have thought that that was quite a reasonable way of making progress, but he did not, despite the urgent need for revenue.
In an ideal world we would be looking at tax cuts for everyone, but we are not in an ideal world. There are issues of priorities. As several Conservative Members have reminded us—former Chancellors, among others—we are living in a world of severe fiscal restrictions, despite the proclamation of the end of austerity. There are other purposes for which the money could have been better used. We are talking about £2.8 billion in the first year, tapering to about £1.7 billion a year, of which roughly half is for the upper rate threshold. We can all think of many, many ways of spending that money, but for me the priority would have been fully restoring the cuts in universal credit that were made two years ago. The Government have partly done that, but with the additional sum of £1.3 billion, the Chancellor could have returned universal credit to the levels at which it was placed two years ago, in the Osborne Budget. The money could also have been used to end the benefits freeze a year early. The continuation of that freeze means that the poorest 30% in the population are being dragged down as a result of the Budget, but ending the freeze a year early could have offset that. Obviously there are many other purposes for which the money could have been used, but those would have been my priorities.
This measure, politically, was obviously intended to enable the Chancellor to proclaim that the end of austerity is not just about public spending, but about cutting taxes. There is nothing wrong with that general proposition, but the problem is that it is dishonest: that is not what is actually happening. The revenue line in the Red Book shows clearly that as a result of revenue measures, council tax will rise by £6 billion over the next five years—that it will rise by considerably more than income tax is being cut. What, essentially, is happening is that as a result of the reduction, or the freezing, of spending on support for local councils, the councils are making up their revenue through council tax increases to the maximum extent allowed. The Government, according to their own numbers, believe that council tax revenue will rise by £6 billion to about £40 billion. That, as I have said, more than cancels out the income tax cuts, most of which in any case accrue to higher-rate earners. So this is not a tax-cutting Budget at all. It is, indirectly, a tax-raising Budget, and I hope that that will be pointed out to members of the Government when they use such rhetoric in future.
I simply wish to move my amendment, and we will seek to oppose clause 5 stand part.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable).
I welcome the Bill. As we consider the amendments, we are faced with a stark choice that faces all politicians and members of the public when they consider the basic question of how we manage our economy and how we manage tax and spending. It is the stark choice between responsibility and recklessness. If we cast our eyes back over the last eight years, we see the benefits of the responsible, balanced approach of the Conservatives. Since 2010 the deficit has decreased by 80%, and the economy has grown for eight consecutive years, by a total of 17%. Unemployment is at its lowest rate since 1975—the year before I was born—and the Government are managing to boost public spending while simultaneously cutting tax. I am particularly pleased about the almost doubling of basic-rate tax relief: those on the basic rate are paying £1,205 less every year than they were paying in 2010, which is a tremendous step forward.
The increases in the minimum wage and the living wage have also had a fundamental impact on the earning capacity of people at the lower end of the income scale in our society.
Absolutely, and the bottom line is that that allows more people to spend more of their own money doing what they want. That is what this Government deliver.
Does not the rise in the tax-free allowance from £6,475 to £12,500 also mean that the tax collector will no longer have to waste time chasing and trying to track down people who are earning the basic salary to secure very small amounts that probably cost more to collect than they constitute in receipts?
My right hon. Friend has made a very good point. The rise is not just good for the taxpayer, but good for the Government.
This balanced, responsible approach is in stark contrast to the reckless and ideologically driven approach of the Opposition. Members will probably need no reminding that in 2016 the shadow Chancellor declared, “I am a Marxist”. He pursues—well, let us call it a policy of half-based Marxism mixed with 1970s-style union militancy.
Does my hon. Friend recall that, along the same lines, the Labour Opposition were preparing for capital flight and a run on the pound, and does he share my alarm at that prospect?
Order. May I share my wisdom with you both? The debate is about the clauses and new clauses before us. Members tried to go down this route once before. The new clauses are quite clear, and the clauses are quite clear. I am sure Mr Docherty wishes to stick to that, and I am sure Members will not tempt him again.
You are absolutely right, Sir Lindsay. I certainly will not be tempted to stray from the clauses and new clauses that we are considering.
It is, of course, important to consider the approach to ownership of private property that the shadow Chancellor and his party laid out last year in a document that Members can obtain from the Library, entitled “Alternative Models of Ownership”.
It is relevant because it puts renationalisation at the front and centre of the Labour party’s economic policy. Regrettably, there are no figures in the document. That is because the cost of renationalisation, calculated by the Centre for Policy Studies, would be £176 billion: £6,471 for every single household. That is a deeply alarming fact.
That approach was given further voice when, just last week, the shadow Chancellor made a speech at an event hosted by Red Pepper. He discussed his broad economic approach, and his approach to tax and private property. He promised that the Labour manifesto would be even more radical than the last. This is relevant because, referring to Labour’s approach to the private ownership of land, the shadow Chancellor said:
“One of the big issues we’re now talking about is land, how do we go about looking at collective ownership of land”.
Order. We have strayed completely from where we should be. If the hon. Gentleman wants a debate on the Opposition, he needs to wait until the right moment. Today is not that moment. This is about the new clauses that we are discussing, and what he is talking about is not relevant. I have allowed him a little leeway, but we have now strayed too far. I would like him to concentrate on the new clauses.
I am grateful to you, Sir Lindsay. I will come back more pertinently and conclude by bringing the debate back to the effect on small businesses. I hugely welcome the cut in business rates in the Finance Bill.
Enterprise relief is the subject of one of the amendments. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is wrong-headed to say that only 52,000 people would benefit from the said changes proposed in the Bill? Does he agree that we should take account of the fact that many employees and others will benefit from entrepreneurs bringing about these businesses, and does he therefore support the changes to enterprise relief?
I am wholehearted in my support for the changes to entrepreneurs’ relief. I was in my constituency of Aldershot on Friday, visiting one of the many small and medium-sized enterprises that are the backbone of our economy there. Gemini Tec is one of the leading manufacturers of short circuit boards in the country, and that business is successful because of the entrepreneurs who have been driving it forward for the past 40 years. They do not ask any special favours from the Government. Indeed, they want the Government to keep out of their way and let them thrive. However, if the Government can in some way create an ecosystem and an atmosphere, through measures such as entrepreneurs’ relief, that is wholeheartedly to be commended. We have a tradition of tremendous innovation and creativity—not least in Aldershot, north Hampshire, the Blackwater Valley and Farnborough—and this drives a lot of the job creation that we are now seeing in this country. As I have said, this has led to the lowest rates of unemployment since 1975, the year before I was born.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that money to support entrepreneurs is being well spent through the Government giving an average of £450,000 in entrepreneurs’ relief each to just 6,000 entrepreneurs? Does he acknowledge that the Government will take £1.5 billion off the 300,000 small businesses that will lose out through the universal credit minimum income floor, which the Government are driving through?
This is not a debate on universal credit. This is actually about job creation. That is the more important point when it comes to entrepreneurs’ relief.
New clauses 3 and 7 both ask the Government to say exactly what the effect of entrepreneurs’ relief will be. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be best for reliefs to be targeted to ensure that the most jobs are created, the most people benefit and the most businesses can grow as a result of the changes? Does he therefore agree that it would be good for the Government to explain why their proposal is better than any other proposals?
Of course the best way to measure the effect of this is in employment growth. I expect these changes to further deepen the positive impact and the positive growth in employment that we have seen recently. Having considered these amendments, I am delighted to welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. Government Members must be confident about supporting our balanced approach, in contrast to the reckless and ideologically driven approach of the Labour party. We must consider this not just in economic or fiscal terms, but in human terms. Free-market capitalism has been one of the greatest forces that the world has ever seen. It has lifted 1.5 billion people out of poverty in the past 30 years. We should be confident about that, and we should be confident in our balanced and responsible approach. I am delighted to welcome the Bill this evening.
Before I speak to my new clause 18, I want to gently chastise the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham). He is not in his place at the moment, but I am sure that someone will respond to this for him. He very inappropriately raised quite selective data on inequalities, a subject that I spent nearly 20 years working on before I came to this place. He should know that we are the seventh most unequal country of the 30 developed countries in relation to income inequality. By some measures, we do worse than others, but overall, economic equality is not just about income; it is also about pay and wealth. We need to be mindful of this fact, and selectively reporting data is not a practice that we should be indulging in.
I should like to declare an interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for health in all policies and as a fellow of the Faculty of Public Health, following more than 20 years of national and international work in this field prior to becoming an MP. It is lovely to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. New clause 18 would require the Government to commit to undertaking an assessment of the effects of the personal taxation measures in the Budget—including changes in the personal allowance and the higher rate threshold—on poverty, on the public’s health, including their life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, and in turn on public services.
The reason I have tabled this new clause is that, over the past eight years or so, I have seen the gains made under the previous Labour Government being totally reversed by this Government. Those gains included the reduction in the number of children and older people living in poverty and the improvements in health including an increase in our life expectancy and reductions in health inequalities. As the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, said on Friday, the cuts and reforms introduced in the past few years have brought misery and torn at our social fabric. He went on:
“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and callous approach”.
As I mentioned in my point of order earlier, I am afraid the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) demonstrated this exact point in his comments on the “The Andrew Marr Show” yesterday. The lack of humanity he showed in his response to the plight of Emily Lydon, who is being forced to sell her home because of issues with transitioning on to universal credit, shamed not only himself and the Government of which he is a Minister, but this whole House.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the massive cuts in the public health budgets that are now controlled by local authorities have simply made matters considerably worse in the public health field?
My hon. Friend is totally right. Those budgets were ring-fenced to start with, but they are now absolutely emaciated. This is stopping us doing the prevention work that we should be doing. We made massive investments in public health, and they were having a real impact in terms of health gain. I am afraid that that is now going by the bye.
We know that there are 14 million people living in poverty in the United Kingdom, 8 million of whom are working—the highest level ever. It is fine for Conservative Members to speak on a positive note about employment rates, but they should be asking themselves why we have such high levels of in-work poverty. That, too, brings shame on us. Two thirds of the 4 million children living in poverty are from working households. How on earth are young people expected to learn and to excel at school if they are constantly hungry?
The hon. Lady might not have had a chance to read it yet, but the all-party parliamentary group on infant feeding and inequalities, which I chair, produced a report that came out last week. It found that even working families are now struggling to meet the cost of infant formula, so they are having to stretch it out, to the detriment of their children’s health. So this problem is starting even before children go to school, because babies are not getting the nutrition that they need.
That is absolutely right. I will come on to some of the really worrying figures about how, from birth, our children are being affected because of the poverty that they are experiencing.
What about disabled people? Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people because of the extra costs that they face around their disability. We have seen their social security support become absolutely emaciated. Given that we are the fifth richest country in the world, that is shocking—absolutely shocking. Four million disabled people are already living in poverty, with many now continually finding that they are becoming more and more isolated in their own homes.
Since 2015, as analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others has shown that those who are in the lowest income decile have lost proportionately more income than any other group as a consequence of personal taxation and social security changes. That is the important thing. My new clause is not just about taxation. We cannot see that in isolation from how we then ensure, as a country, that we are supporting people on low incomes—and that support is completely inadequate. What was put forward in the Budget does not go anywhere near repairing the damage that was done in the summer Budget of 2015.
Last month’s Budget produces only marginal gains to the household income of the poorest, while reducing the number of higher-rate taxpayers by 300,000. The Government’s regressive measures have done nothing to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. When cuts to household incomes are combined with the cuts to public spending and services, the impact is even more dramatic, and again with disproportionate cuts to Government funding to towns and cities across the north, as evidence has repeatedly shown.
The effects of all this on life expectancy are now being seen, with health gains made over decades now falling away. Life expectancy has been stalling since 2011, and it is now flatlining, particularly in older age groups and for older women. In the same week—the very same week—that these data came out last year, the Government actually increased the state pension age. We know that our life expectancy is flatlining. For women—think about the 1950s-born women—it is going backwards, yet we are still putting up the state pension age. What is going on?
On top of this there are regional differences in how long people will live, with these health inequalities reflecting the socioeconomic inequalities across the country. Life expectancy for men in Windsor and Maidenhead stands at 81.6 years, while in my Oldham and Saddleworth constituency it is 77. Even within these areas, there are differences in how long people will live. Again, in the Windsor and Maidenhead local authority area, the life expectancy gap is 5.8 years for men and 4.8 years for women, while in my constituency it is 11.4 years for men and 10.7 years for women. These health inequalities are reflected right across the country. The gains Labour made in reducing health inequalities are now being reversed.
Similarly, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reported last month that infant mortality has started to increase for the first time in 100 years. Four in 1,000 babies will not reach their first birthday in the UK, compared with 2.8 in the EU. These are the unacceptable consequences of austerity. I welcome the Department of Health and Social Care commissioning Public Health England to investigate the causes of this declining health status, but it is very late in the day. Public health specialists—renowned epidemiologists such as Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Professor Martin McKee and many others—have been calling for this for the past 18 months. We already know from the work that they have been doing that they are pointing the finger towards austerity. It is imperative that in addition to stopping austerity, and the misery and poverty that is being wrought, we tackle the inequalities within and between regions and communities.
An analysis of the effects of the Budget’s personal taxation measures is part of this, but it should not be seen in isolation. This would be outside the scope of the Bill, but the Government should be doing an analysis of their social security and public spending cuts. Reducing the gap between the rich and the poor is not just good for the economy. As evidence from totemic reports such as “The Spirit Level” shows, life expectancy then increases, as well as educational attainment, social mobility, trust, and much more. Fairer, more equal societies benefit everyone. Inequalities are not inevitable—they are socially reproduced and they can be changed—but to tackle them in all their forms takes commitment, it takes courage, and it takes leadership.
It is a pleasure to speak in this part of the debate. I really do think that this is the best Finance Bill that we have seen in some years. I return to the point that I made on Second Reading: Governments do not have their own money, only taxpayers’ money. It is absolutely imperative to remember that and to remember that taxes are paid in the expectation that they will be spent wisely and necessarily. Where the Government can find a way to enable taxpayers to keep more of their own hard-earned money, they should do so.
Helping families in constituencies like mine better to meet the costs of living is absolutely critical. I am therefore a strong supporter of clause 5, raising the personal allowance for us all and the scope of the basic rate to more of the middle earners who have previously been dragged into higher rates of taxes than they should have faced. These are not the top earners, but will often be the likes of middle management, senior nurses, or lower-rank inspectors in the police, and they have previously been penalised by this punitive higher rate of tax.
The increase in the personal allowance is the latest in a line of such increases. This will mean that a typical basic-rate taxpayer will pay £1,205 less tax in the next tax year than they did in 2010-11. Importantly, the increase to £12,500 comes a year earlier than planned. That can happen because the public finances are in a better shape than had been predicted, thanks to the hard work of the British people and the sound fiscal management of my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary, and the Ministers on the Front Bench. They know that taxpayers’ money is taxpayers’ money, and they have rightly allowed taxpayers to keep more of it as soon as it has been possible to do so, as we see in these clauses. This is combined with inflation coming back under control and wages rising again in real terms. The lowest paid have not only been taken out of income tax altogether but enjoy an increased national living wage.
I share my hon. Friend’s thoughts about the increase in the personal allowance. Does he agree that one of the very significant positive things in this Finance Bill is also the—I am sorry; I will let him continue.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments.
As I was saying, allowing taxpayers to keep more than it would have been possible to do previously is combined with inflation coming back under control and wages rising again in real terms. The lowest paid have not only been taken out of income tax altogether but enjoy an increased national living wage, thanks to this Government. We are seeing the lowest paid paying less tax but also bringing home more money. The annual earnings of a full-time—
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the national living wage is not actually a wage that one can live on, and that it does not apply to those under the age of 25? In fact, the gap for those aged 16 and 17 has been going up every year.
The national living wage is a critical part of ensuring that some of the lowest paid in our society earn much more and take home more pay. Earnings for a full-time minimum-wage worker will have increased by £2,750 since it was introduced in April 2016.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and giving me another chance. He mentioned inflation. Does he share my view that the fact that the annual deficit has been reduced by 80% since 2010 is another very significant piece of progress with regard to inflation?
I agree with my hon. Friend’s comments, which show the responsible approach we on this side of the House have taken to the economy, compared with the approach the previous Labour Government took.
And now the hon. Gentleman is going to tell us about Labour’s future approach if they ever get back into office.
As the hon. Gentleman is talking about borrowing, does he agree that the Tory party in the last eight years has borrowed more money than all Labour Governments put together?
The hon. Gentleman will have seen the figures that show that debt is now coming down to lower levels than ever before, and we have seen the deficit back under control after the failings of the previous Labour Government who got us into an horrendous mess that working families in this country ended up paying for.
We are now seeing the numbers of low-paid workers at a record low, and we are seeing low taxpayers now paying record low levels of tax. The astonishing turnaround achieved in making work pay, not least through tax measures like those before us today, means that the Office for Budget Responsibility has now revised up its assumptions for the trend labour market participation rates and revised down its estimate of the equilibrium rate of employment. As the Treasury rightly highlights in the Red Book paragraph 1.15, both of these revisions raise the level of potential output, which is good news for the sustainability of the labour market boom which has undoubtedly been the greatest achievement of the policies pursued by this Conservative Government.
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree with the Institute for Fiscal Studies that the cumulative impact of personal tax and benefit reform since 2015 has been that the bottom two thirds of society is far worse off and that the only people who are better off under this Government’s policies are the top third?
I totally disagree. We have seen increases in the national living wage and reduced tax in this Budget, and further measures in this Budget to support UC.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact we should be looking at is the fact reported by the OECD that the proportion of jobs that are low paid is at the lowest level for the past two decades? We should be celebrating that.
That is absolutely right. We should be looking at those figures, not some of the figures being used by Opposition Members, who want to keep people on a level of pay that is lower than it would ever be, because they want to keep people out of work and keep people in the workless society we saw under the previous Labour Government.
We on this side of the House have made work pay, and the long-term benefits of doing so are clear in the expansion of our non-inflationary production potential. The last time unemployment was so low, 40 or more years ago, there were massive peaks in inflation. The contrast with today is stark and we should be proud of our work as a country in digging ourselves out of the mess left by the Labour party.
For people in Stoke-on-Trent making work pay has added to the renaissance of our fine, proud city and its industries, and the situation is the same in once-forgotten manufacturing towns across the country, which are seeing a revival in real jobs for real levels of take home pay. Indeed the ONS estimates that real household disposable income per head was 4% higher in quarter 2 of 2018 than at the start of 2010, and the OBR expects it will increase by a further 3.2% by the end of 2023. At the same time, income inequality is down, and is lower than it was in 2010. To refute a number of the claims made from the Opposition Front Bench, the number of children in absolute low-income poverty has fallen since 2010.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but if he is so convinced of his policies in relation to the issues he is talking about, why will he not support the provision in section 5 of this Act of an impact assessment on child poverty and equality? What has he got to fear?
The reason is that the facts show that the number of children living in absolute poverty has fallen since 2010 and will continue to fall, because of the policies of this Conservative Government.
Does my hon. Friend agree that for every £1 those on low income pay in tax, £4 of public spending goes towards them, whereas for those on higher income, for every £5 they pay in tax they receive only £1 back in public spending, and that is because we are a fair society, which means that well-off people contribute to helping those on lower incomes?
I thank my hon. Friend for those comments, which show that the highest earners are paying their fair share, while the lowest paid in society are being supported as much as we can. That is what this Government have been doing: reducing taxes for the lowest paid in society and ensuring that the lowest paid can be paid more.
I reject many of the views of the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams). She made some comments about statistics and then used statistics in her own way. I will also refer to the G7 by saying that only in the UK and Japan have the lowest paid seen their wages grow in that time, and income inequality is lower than it was previously.
On a point of order, Dame Eleanor. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) suggests that I have used statistics inappropriately. I can cite all my sources of evidence; can he?
Order. The hon. Lady knows that that is not a point of order for the Chair; it is a point of debate, and, as I have said many times in here—and so has Mr Speaker—fortunately it is not the duty of the Chair to decide between one set of statistics and another. It all depends on how one applies the statistics, and the hon. Lady is perfectly at liberty to intervene on the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), as is he to take an intervention from her, where they can continue the argument between them, but I will take no part in it.
Thank you, Dame Eleanor. The statistics I have used show that income inequality is lower than it was before the crash, and this is all alongside our continuing to reduce the deficit and debt, and meeting our targets three years early, while continuing to invest more in our vital public services. This responsible approach to public finances has seen our economy and the number of jobs boom, compared with the spiralling-out-of-control economy under Labour.
I was pleased that the Minister with responsibility for high streets—the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry)—visited my constituency on Friday and talked about some of the measures we are taking in this Budget to support towns like Longton and Fenton in my constituency, helping to address some of the issues on the high street. I hope we can get some of the £650 million pot announced in the Budget to convert many of their empty premises back into use and help with business rates to ensure that retailers with a rateable value of under £51,000 will receive relief, as that will be hugely welcome by the smallest retailers in our towns.
I also want to comment on some of the views expressed by Opposition Members about entrepreneurs’ relief. I was shocked that some of the views were so anti-business and anti-enterprise. We must condemn those views, which are damaging businesses in constituencies up and down the country.
The hon. Gentleman must not misquote. We are looking for an assessment of entrepreneurs’ relief, and if he believes that what he suggests is good value for money for taxpayers he would support a review of that relief. What is wrong with that?
I just wanted to talk about the relief in Stoke-on-Trent as well. Entrepreneurs’ relief in my constituency will help many businesses that are starting up. We have some fantastic retention rates in Stoke-on-Trent; we have some of the highest new business start-up retention rates in the country, and that relief is critical in helping those businesses.
The measures introduced in the Budget to increase the time period from 12 to 24 months will help to ensure that it is businesses that are genuinely contributing to our economy that will receive the relief, making a huge contribution to the development of new technologies and innovation that we so much support in our economies throughout the country.
The proposed reductions in corporation tax in the Budget and the relief on capital allowances, which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) spoke about, will also be a huge support for many of the businesses in my constituency, particularly manufacturers. Around 15% of the economy in Stoke-on-Trent is made up of manufacturing businesses. Those measures will be a huge support for those businesses, increasing the amount of machinery and equipment that they can buy. Increasing relief on capital allowances and the investment allowance up to £1 million will help more of those businesses to buy new equipment and invest in the plant in their factories. I welcome that measure, which will help not just those manufacturing businesses, but the huge number of businesses up and down the country that produce that machinery and the workforces in those industries, which are so valued up and down the country.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when we are talking about support for businesses, through entrepreneurs’ relief and all these other measures, we are talking not just about the people who own those businesses, but about the people working in them who have a job because of these measures?
Absolutely, and we want to see the number of those workers and the opportunities and jobs in those industries continue to grow. That is why it is so shocking to hear views from the Opposition that would damage the jobs miracle that we have seen over the last few years in this country.
Wages are rising, inflation is stable, unemployment has been so low for so long that the Office for Budget Responsibility believes that the equilibrium rate has fallen, income inequality is down and disposable income is up. This is the extraordinary record of making work pay. It is a huge economic success story, after the financial meltdown that the Labour party presided over. I want to see the success continue, and I know that to do so this House must support the Bill. I shall continue to do so, not least because of the concrete measures it contains for putting money in the pockets of Stoke-on-Trent’s very many hard-working people.
I begin by reflecting on the purpose of our society—the purpose of our communities, locally and nationally. The great Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee said:
“No social system will bring us happiness, health and prosperity unless it is inspired by something greater than materialism.”
I agree with Clement Attlee. To me and many others in this House, the aspiration is to create and be part of a community and society that cares for one another and enables everyone to succeed in life, in whatever form success takes—a society that is safe and secure from cradle to grave and that provides accessible healthcare, quality housing, outstanding education and secure employment. A Government’s ultimate goal should be the wellbeing of its citizens, and there is much evidence to suggest that higher levels of wellbeing can lead to higher levels of job performance and productivity and greater job satisfaction. That is the society I want to live in.
Unfortunately, to say that that is not a reality under the current Government is an understatement. This Finance Bill does nothing to deliver the people of this country’s wellbeing. On new clause 2, a UN report just last week told us that the Government have inflicted “great misery” on our people, with
“punitive, mean-spirited and often callous”
austerity policies, driven by a political desire to undertake social re-engineering rather than by economic necessity. This is from the United Nations poverty envoy. We are told that levels of child poverty are
“not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and economic disaster”.
The Budget was an opportunity to make some attempt to right those wrongs. Did it offer full and fair funding for our teachers and education service? No. Did it offer reassurance for those suffering the consequences of the cruel and callous roll-out of universal credit? No. Did it attempt to put an end to the causes of homelessness and destitution? No. Did it commit to funding our police services to help halt the massive increase in violent crime? No. Did it commit to funding our local councils, suffering 50% cuts, which are damaging the very fabric of our society? No. Did it do anything to relieve the hardship felt by so many women across our country? No.
Some 14 million of our citizens—our people; a fifth of the population—are living in poverty. One and a half million are destitute, with no money for even basic essentials. Up to 40% of children will be living in poverty by 2022. This Finance Bill is about lip service and rhetoric—pretending to care about the poor and vulnerable, but doing nothing substantial to address the misery and suffering felt by so many in our society. There is so much poverty and inequality in our country, and our country has never been more miserable or divided—divided geographically, generationally and economically. We have poverty in our cities, towns and villages, but under this Government there is a poverty of compassion, a poverty of empathy and a poverty of insight into what real, ordinary people’s lives are like.
My mum said to me a few years before her death, having lived through the depression in the 1930s and survived the Manchester blitz in the second world war: “I’m glad I’m at the end of my life and not at the start when I look at what this Government are doing to our society. They’re punishing people for being poor”. Enough now. The people of this country have had enough. Labour will keep up the pressure and fight for those who are stuck in poor quality housing, those who are struggling to feed their families and those who are not yet old enough to understand what poverty is and how it may impact their life. They deserve better.
I would like to finish with a quotation from the philosopher Thomas Paine:
“It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.”
It is interesting that the Government are currently facing so many questions and inquiries, both within this House and beyond.
It is an honour to speak in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker).
One of the most striking things about the Chancellor’s Budget speech was the moment in history that it reflected. As the Committee will know, in 2010 the Government—the coalition Government, as then was—inherited the largest peacetime deficit in our history, yet the Chancellor was able to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that the deficit had fallen by four fifths, from just under 10% to 1.9%, and that it would be less than 1% by 2023-24. This is an extraordinary achievement, not of this House or even this Government, but of the British people, who, yes, have had to cut their cloth to make it happen. However, it has been an essential task, yet sometimes, listening to some hon. Members, we can be led to believe that it could have been wished away, that it did not matter or that it was something that the Conservative party invented.
But that is not so. The deficit is a real, serious thing. The deficit is the debt that we pass on to our children and to our children’s children. It is the debt that we have not cleared ourselves. We have a responsibility to the future. We have a responsibility to pass on a natural environment that is not polluted and we have a duty to pass an economy that is not polluted.
I am listening to my hon. Friend’s opening remarks with great interest. He is right to talk about the importance of tackling the deficit, yet we sometimes hear comments from the Opposition about debt going up. If they are so concerned about the level of debt, can he confirm to me how many deficit reduction measures he believes they have supported?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I believe that the answer to his question is none, but I stand to be corrected.
Alongside the Budget, we heard the remarkable news last week that wage growth is at its highest level for a decade. That welcome return to growth benefits people in my constituency and around the country. In addition, we have the best employment figures in my lifetime. Sometimes, we are given the impression that such figures are idle statistics that mean nothing—that the Government are just chirruping on about that silly little thing, employment—but employment is not a marginal thing. Employment is what gives our constituents the opportunity to work, to support their families, to play their part in society and to have independence and choice. It is the greatest gift that the economy can bestow.
I always enjoy Finance Bill debates, because I am a genuine fan of the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd). I assure Hansard that I am not being sarcastic when I say that I genuinely enjoy his company and his speeches. Over the years we have shared in the House, we have enjoyed some debates on the Beatles, on Plutarch and on sausages. Today, I shall add to that list by picking him up on voodoo economics.
The hon. Gentleman has accused us of voodoo economics when it comes to reducing corporation tax and thus bringing greater revenue into the Exchequer. I encourage him, in the spirit of friendship, to go and talk to some of the businesses that have onshored to the UK to take advantage of our extraordinarily competitive corporation tax rates. That is why people are coming to this country to do business. It is why they are choosing to raise revenue here and pay taxes here. That is good for them, it is good for our economy and it is good for the people who use our public services. I respectfully suggest that if anyone wants an example of voodoo economics, they should look to the attempt to dig up the dead and rotting corpse of socialism, reinvigorate it with magic spells and have it wandering the streets, looking to bring rack and ruin. We find real voodoo economics in the suggestion that it will cost nothing to renationalise a range of utilities and services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Leo Docherty) has pointed out, it will not cost nothing; it will cost at least £176 billion. Contrary to what the shadow Chancellor says, it will not pay for itself. It will be paid for by British taxpayers.
My hon. Friend is making an eloquent speech. He is right to point out the voodoo economics surrounding the Labour party’s plan for nationalisation. As he has said, we are not simply talking about the fact that it will cost £176 billion across the whole country; if we divide that up per household, my constituents in Aldershot are deeply alarmed at the prospect of having to pay £6,471 for this madness.
I imagine that they are; they have every right to be very concerned—nay, furious—about it.
Several clauses in the Finance Bill have been misrepresented. They put more money in people’s pockets and make more money available to businesses, not for the sake of some blind ideological exercise, but because Conservatives know that growth matters most to our economy. We would all like to have more money for public services today, but if we get that additional money by raising taxes, there will be less money in the economy and, ultimately, less revenue, so less money for public services. The only way to increase the size of the slice of the pie that goes to public services is by increasing the size of the pie. The only way to do that effectively is by giving people opportunities to spend more of their own money, and by giving businesses opportunities to set up, survive, grow, employ people and share wealth.
For that reason, I fully support the measures in clause 5, which provide an opportunity to take yet more people out of income tax, building on the work done by the coalition Government. To return to a point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), it is very easy to create fiscal drag by having people pay higher taxes. Reducing those taxes reduces the drag and increases the amount of money in the economy. More people spend more money, which helps businesses to employ more people and creates a virtuous cycle from which we all benefit.
The hon. Gentleman refers to things being virtuous. I am sure that he believes that new clause 1 is virtuous, in that it sets out an assessment of the effect of reducing the threshold for the additional rate to £80,000, which is the Labour party’s policy. If he wants the facts and the evidence, why does he not support new clause 1, which will enable us to get all the facts and the evidence? Then we can have another debate, in which we can talk about Plutarch and Cicero until the cows come home.
I would certainly take up the hon. Gentleman’s offer to talk about Cicero, but I am sure that I would be ruled out of order.
For the sake of clarity, no—Cicero is always pertinent to everything.
Cicero, as the hon. Gentleman knows, was one of the great minds of the Roman senate, and I can say with full certainty what he would have made of new clause 1. He would have said that it was a waste of time. We can rely on the Treasury to keep us informed of all the ins and outs of Government policy. We do not need additional laws and additional bureaucracy to achieve that. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a great lover of reviews. We have sat in many Committees together over the years, and he has tabled amendments calling for review upon review, which Parliament has always, sadly, declined to accept.
I am very much enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech. Does he agree that many analyses must have been done in the Treasury between 1997 and 2010 about why it was sensible to keep the tax rates as they were? The highest earners now pay slightly more, in terms of percentage rate, than they did throughout most of Labour’s 13 years in government, except for the last couple of months. It is quite strange to hear Labour Members’ enthusiasm for this type of taxation now that they are in opposition.
As ever, my hon. Friend puts it extremely well. “Wise after the event” might be one of the Labour party’s mottos.
I am pleased to welcome, in clauses 41 and 42, further improvements to stamp duty to help more people to get on the housing ladder and buy the homes that they so richly deserve. Those measures will put more money into the system and encourage the building of more homes, to allow us to progress down the route of building what must be built for the home owning democracy.
Alongside that, I was pleased to see an additional £1.7 billion being put into universal credit, to give the poorest people in society more money in their pockets—money that benefits them and flows straight into the economy. I take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey), who is not in her place, for her service as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. She did her job extremely well. It was under her leadership that a number of improvements were made to universal credit and this decision to put an additional £1.7 billion into the service was concluded. That Secretary of State bore her unfair share of personal criticism while she was in that job; the person rather than the issue was often played. Although I fully take on board the remarks made by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Thelma Walker) about the desire of that great Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee for a caring society, when I have seen and heard some of the slander thrown at my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton, I have had to wonder whether all parts of the left are really as caring as Clement Attlee would have had them.
Does my hon. Friend agree with Cicero on this point: when you have no basis for argument, you should abuse the plaintiff?
My hon. Friend quotes Cicero far better than I ever could, and I regret only that she did not do so in the original Latin—we can hope for such things next time.
I am not going to quote Cicero, although I am perfectly able to do so, but I think the debate needs to progress as it should do. Is the cut in stamp duty, particularly for shared ownership schemes, going to have a major impact? Has my hon. Friend done any assessment of how much that is going to affect the people who are trying so desperately hard to get on to the housing ladder in his constituency and in mine? Does he have anything to support this argument?