Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:29 pm on 2nd June 1992.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Nelson Mr Anthony Nelson , Chichester 7:29 pm, 2nd June 1992

As the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) said, this has been a short but interesting debate, notable not only for the range of subjects discussed within the curtilage of a Finance Bill but for three outstanding maiden speeches, to which I shall refer.

I hope that, in the short time that I intend to take winding up the debate, the House will permit me to start by paying my tribute to my predecessor, John Maples, who was widely recognised on both sides of the House as an affable man of great professional expertise and competence. From my short time in office, I know that he will be an extremely hard act to follow. I hope that his absence from the House is only an interlude and that he will be back with us soon.

I hope, if I am going to be tail-end Charlie in such debates, that I will do what Ministers replying to debates do not do enough—mention hon. Members who have spoken rather than making a further Second Reading speech. That, inevitably, will make my speech shorter than that of the hon. Member for Wrexham.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), who broke the tradition of a non-controversial maiden speech by announcing that he was pro-hunting. It seemed that he was challenging my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) in trying to create an identity for his constituency, and I wish him well in calling for a return to Rutland's unitary status.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton rightly paid tribute to our friend, Michael Latham—a man of the highest integrity and a devout man of extremely good nature. Our deliberations will be poorer for his absence.

My hon. Friend made an extremely impressive speech and will make valuable contributions to our financial debates. I noted his remarks about inheritance tax, advanced corporation tax and the refunding rules on VAT, and he made some interesting remarks about the high debt-equity ratios of British companies. Although the Government's influence is limited,' that is an interesting point for us to bear in mind in the wider formation of fiscal and monetary policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), in his second maiden speech on returning to the House, asked us not to prolong the recession. I hope that we shall do nothing to prolong it. In this short Parliament, we have reduced interest rates, and my hon. Friend called for further reductions. Our policies are designed to achieve low inflation and low interest rates. I note what he said about a low-tax economy attracting foreign investment. One of the good aspects of our economic performance is the extent to which we are a haven for foreign investment. I am sure that that is welcomed by all hon. Members.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) on an outstanding maiden speech, in the great traditions of the House. He spoke about his predecessors, to which I add a personal word about Maureen Hicks, whom many Conservative Members regarded as an outstanding Member. We shall miss her, but we wish the hon. Gentleman well.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East made a compassionate and compelling speech. He spoke about the plight of pensioners and the infirm, and I note what he said about loans rather than grants from the Department of Social Security. He expressed concern about the restraints on local authorities' housing plans, and spoke with passion about the employment and unemployment problems of some of his constituents. We look forward to hearing further from him.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), responding to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, made particular reference to the size of the trade deficit, and dwelt on inheritance tax. Of course it is of concern that the current account and trade deficit is substantial, but we should not lose sight of the fact that exports have grown strongly, which deserves a welcome. Nor should we forget that the size of the deficit is containable.

The hon. Member's comments on inheritance tax showed more concern for the Labour party's old-fashioned attitudes to the accumulation and maintenance of large amounts of wealth than for the equity of the inheritance tax rules. The Government have received a public mandate and have taken early action significantly to offer relief on inheritance tax, which is extremely welcome, at least among Conservative Members.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) made a speech that had a familiar refrain for me, and perhaps we shall hear it again. He rightly emphasised the importance of controlling public expenditure—a theme emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend).

I wish to assure my right hon. Friend and other Conservative Members that the Government intend to take the tightest control of public expenditure. It is absolutely essential if we are to deliver the prospects of economic regeneration and the electoral promises that we made at the general election that we contain public expenditure this year and in years to come. It is right that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury be given the support that was evident among Conservative Members tonight in the discussions that he is having on spending policies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington welcomed the Bill because its provisions on inheritance tax enable family firms and farms to be passed from one generation to another.

The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) was concerned that further moves to low inflation might mean deflation. I do not think that that necessarily follows. In the past, certainly in the early 1980s, inflation fell while the economy grew. The projections for reducing the underlying rate of inflation will not necessarily impair our prospects for growth. He emphasised the importance that he attaches to manufacturing industry, which I understand.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) complained that this was not a Budget for investment and that he would have preferred an increase in allowances rather than the introduction of the 20p band. That was a central plank of the Chancellor's Budget, which had considerable appeal to people who are within the tax net but are relatively low-paid, and it will bring valuable relief to many people. We have a public mandate for it, and we intend to press ahead with it.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed expressed concern about the Leeds case and about life assurance companies, which both involve, as he put it, aspects of retrospection. That is a contentious matter, to which we shall return in Committee, but we do not take the same line as him. We have a good relationship with the life assurance companies and hope to be able to discuss the content of the Bill's measures, but it is quite proper, given the size of the yield cost of some of the issues at stake, that we take legislative opportunities to put matters beyond question. Confirming past tax regimes is different from the retrospection that visits increased tax rates retrospectively.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) spoke of omissions from the Budget and the Finance Bill, of the housing problems that he perceives in his constituency and of the severity of unemployment. We contest that, because we believe that the Budget and the Bill form part of an overall economic strategy that will create jobs, sustainable growth and sound monetary policies. The evidence, the outlook and surveys of confidence suggest that that is already happening, and we believe that the Bill will encourage it still further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) mentioned stamp duty, which was mentioned at Prime Minister's Question Time earlier today. I am aware that many hon. Members of all parties have been pressing either for an extension of the concession or for it to be continued permanently. At this maiden appearance at the Dispatch Box, I am afraid that I must tell them all firmly that that will not be possible. I have today answered a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) making it clear that the Government will reintroduce the stamp duty rates in August this year.

The yield costs are considerable, and we cannot afford to ignore the impact on the borrowing requirements of Government. The cost of the concession alone is £400 million until August, and the cost of extending that concession for the rest of the financial year would be another £470 million. The cost of the concession for a whole financial year amounts to about £700 million. The total yield from stamp duty on houses amounts to almost £1·4 billion per year. We simply cannot ignore such money in the current equations on public expenditure.

If we wish to meet the public expenditure priorities we have set, we must also consider the fiscal as well as the borrowing side. That is why the temporary stamp duty relief must come to an end. I hope that the certainty that it will come to an end will act as a further boost in the intervening period to encouraging the purchases and transactions in properties up to the value of £250,000.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) spoke about transport, housing and employment problems in London. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London will home in especially on the problems of transport in London. It is now known that there is a Cabinet sub-committee on London, and for better or worse, I am the Treasury man on it. I will do my bit, short of coming up with substantial sums that it proposes to spend, to try to ensure that there are some useful ideas to try to get better value for money, more efficiency in public expenditure and higher-quality public services in transport, housing and employment for all the people in London.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) said that there were no signs of recovery, and called for a major increase in public investment. There is often a misconception about public investment. Investment means one person spending the money instead of another person spending it. If the Government spend that money, they have to take it from somebody who might be investing it better. The argument that must be deployed—to the House or to the public—for public expenditure, whether one raises it by borrowing or by tax, is that Government will spend it more effectively than those who would otherwise spend and save it.

Conservatives do not take that view. We believe in the plurality and judgment of the private sector. We believe in leaving more resources with people and with companies so that they can set their own priorities. In the words of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, the Budget and the Finance Bill mark a step in our constant drive to leave individuals and families with more of what they earn."—[Official Report, 10 March 1992; Vol. 205, c. 761.] That is our intention, and we will stick to it. It is a pledge that gave us the support of the electorate. It is a Budget for recovery, and the Bill follows it through. I commend the Bill to the House.