Orders of the Day — Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:10 pm on 7th July 1997.

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Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde 7:10 pm, 7th July 1997

My hon. Friend is right. To develop that line of thinking: the Government have taken £5.4 billion out of the investment potential of those pension funds. Where is that money supposed to be coming from? It is already clear that companies are suggesting that their pension holidays will soon be over and they will have to find more money from somewhere to meet their obligations. The comments that I have just made about personal pension funds show that the impact will come sooner rather than later. The Government will rue the day that they introduced that measure.

Some people—including one correspondent in a national newspaper—have suggested that the measure will improve the performance of pension funds. That is a fair line of argument, but a dawn raid of unparalled proportions on the long-term future of people's savings was not the method to use. The measure was introduced by a Government who are supposed to believe in the long term.

One of the saddest items in the Budget is the removal of tax relief on the contributions of those who have taken out private medical insurance. It is a nasty, spiteful tax in which the Government can have no pride. It is little wonder that those on the Treasury Bench are looking away from me while I make these remarks. [Laughter.] Labour Members may laugh, but many people—some of whom took out private health insurance because their unions or their employers made it available to them as a benefit—wanted to keep that benefit into their old age, and the tax relief helped them to do so. Labour Members can chuckle as much as they like now, but they should wait until the first elderly person comes through their advice bureau door and asks why he has had to give up the benefit.

The Treasury has offered no costed information on the impact of that measure on the national health service. The only information that I have received on the subject has come from the Association of British Insurers. I concede that it is biased, because it represents the insurance industry. Its press release states: If half the 550,000 over-60s with medical insurance give up their cover, they would only need to cost the NHS £440 each in a year for the anticipated £120 million saving in tax relief to be used up. The press release concludes with a telling remark that is chilling for the Chief Secretary: Yet the average paid out annually in claims for this age group is some £760". Where will the extra money come from, to deal with any one person—never mind about half the total number—who falls out of the health care insurance system?

The people affected by the measure are not evenly distributed around the country. They are concentrated in certain areas such as the Fylde coast and the south coast, where there are large percentages of elderly people. The Government should give a clear assurance from the Dispatch Box tonight that they will assess the costings and the impact of that measure on each and every health authority in the United Kingdom.

There was a remarkable throw-away line in the Budget involving personal taxation, which points the way to the future. The Chancellor said that he wanted to introduce a 10p starting rate when it was prudent to do so. I am looking forward to the Government's definition of prudence, but I am also looking forward to how they will deal with the 10p starting rate, because I think that therein lie some fundamental changes to the way in which income tax will operate.

The one commitment the Chancellor has not given is what will happen to the 20p band—that has been left unsaid and it would be useful to know what the long-term tax objective is. Do I see 20p going and 10p arriving? If I do see that occurring, will it be on the first £1,000 or £2,000 of income? If that is the way in which the Chancellor's mind is working, I see the 20p band going and he might be bold enough to make some further changes—changes to the allowances. Unless he does that, the 10p band will remain utterly illusory, in that it will be basic-rate and higher-rate taxpayers who will be the beneficiaries of 80 per cent. of the arrival of a 10p tax rate. It will do nothing for low-paid taxpayers.

I believe that that forecasts future changes in allowances and even changes in the basic rate structure. It will be incumbent on us to keep an eye on that scenario, because there are too many variables changing. It would be another golden opportunity for the Government to impose not only the 17 tax increases we have had so far, but the 18th, 19th, 20th and beyond.