Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:08 pm on 30th April 2002.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) 5:08 pm, 30th April 2002

No, I will not give way.

We are now having to debate many pages in the Bill relating to anti-avoidance mechanisms for a relief that we should abolish. We should be taking those pages off the statute book.

To be fair to the Government, there are a number of measures in the Bill that we welcome. The fact that the bribes that companies used to give to win business overseas are no longer to be tax deductible is welcome; that is something that we have campaigned for. The extra support for amateur sports clubs is also welcome, as is the fact that some of the measures in the Bill have been widely consulted on. The increase in the inheritance tax rate band is welcome, as are certain other modest measures.

When we add up all those welcome measures, however, and stand back and ask, "Does this Bill improve the British tax system?", I am afraid that the answer is no. If it did not underlie a Budget strategy that we genuinely support, including investment in the health service, we would not feel able to vote for its Second Reading.

On Second Reading, it is customary to discuss the Treasury Select Committee report and the macro- economic policy that lie behind the Budget. I shall do so briefly. The Chancellor and, indeed, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury had, and have, a relatively good story to tell about the economy. Employment is high and unemployment is low, interest rates—both long-term and short-term—are low, and inflation is low. All that is welcome news, and represents a genuine achievement on the part of the Labour Government. The Budget, however, fails to address many failings. First and, in many ways, most significant is the fact that the British economy is incredibly unbalanced.

For some six or seven years, the growth of the economy has been fuelled by the consumer sector alone. It has not been fuelled by investment in business or in manufacturing. Labour Members know that, and they should worry about the fact that the Budget makes the situation worse by piling taxes on to the corporate sector and not restraining the consumption of the household sector through a balanced tax policy. The Government are leaving the job of dealing with consumer demand to the Monetary Policy Committee, which in due course will mean higher interest rates that will stifle investment. By failing to achieve a balanced tax policy—a policy that would help to balance the macro-economy—the Government are storing up serious problems.