Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:16 pm on 30th April 2002.

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Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde 6:16 pm, 30th April 2002

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the kind way in which she has responded to my point and for her agreement that it should at least be considered. I accept that we must be concerned about the abuse of the tax system, which I shall talk about in the context of tax relief for films. However, the time has come to see what encouragement we can give to genuine investment efforts. The Government have talked about addressing the issue of the devil making work for idle hands; in areas that are potential hotbeds of world terrorism, this objective is worth re-examining.

I am delighted to learn that companies such as Grosvenor Estates are in discussion with the Treasury and the Inland Revenue about section 13 of the Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992 and the way in which private companies can trade legitimately in terms of their capital gains without being unfairly affected, as they would judge it, by the current mechanism. Companies such as Grosvenor Estates, which are entirely legitimate and do not use mechanisms afforded to private companies for illegitimate activities, deserve a fair hearing, and I am delighted to learn that those discussions are continuing.

I come now to the items in the Bill, and wish to focus on films, oil, capital gains tax, the oil strategy and associated matters. It is noteworthy that the Government's desire to restrict the tax relief on expenditure on the production of British qualifying films is buried in an Inland Revenue press release. I find it difficult to find an individual press release on the subject.

In the Chancellor's Budget speech in 1997, he talked about wanting to help the talents of British film-makers. He said that they should be employed, wherever possible, to the benefit of the British economy. He was mournful of the fact that the British film industry had not, in his judgment, received the encouragement that it deserved.

The Chancellor said that, after consideration, he would provide a three-year measure costing £30 million to encourage the British film industry. It has been interesting to see how, perhaps with typically cinematic imagination, the film industry has freeloaded on the Chancellor's tax generosity. As someone who gamely fought against giving relief to the film industry, because I could see no justification for helping that particular group of luvvies, I ask the Paymaster General to explain how assistance of £30 million to the film industry has led to the Treasury's estimate that next year, 2003–04, it will raise and recover £225 million, and £295 million in the following year. Perhaps the hon. Lady can enlighten us, either tonight or in the Standing Committee, as to what went wrong with the drafting of that relief; how the film industry freeloaded on the Government; how the Government were conned into the proposal in the first place; and why they have only now woken up to the fact that they have been taken—in common parlance—for "a right tater" by the film industry.

On the question of the oil industry, here again the Government are seeking to raise revenue through the measure. Some heroic work is going on in the Treasury with the addition of the 10 per cent. supplementary charge on the corporation tax of continental fields. In the current financial year, we start off at £100 million; then we go to £450 million; and then, in a massive leap, to £600 million. That is why I asked the Chief Secretary if he would be kind enough to put the business case. I, for one, want to know what lies behind those heroic revenue increases. What analysis has been carried out with the oil industry to examine its investment opportunities?

The United Kingdom Offshore Operators Association reminded me that in this financial year, 2001–02, the Government have already raised £5.2 billion in tax from the oil industry—an increase of 25 per cent. over the previous year. In information furnished to me and, I am sure, to other Members, the UKOOA states that the measure, which came very much out of the blue, has shaken industry confidence. The association points out:

"The 10 per cent. supplementary charge on North Sea profits will raise the UK marginal rate to 73.75 per cent."

More tellingly, the UKOOA calculates that, in the period until 2010, the charge will remove £5 billion of capital resources from the industry. That is why we deserve to see some business modelling. What will be the effect on offshore development in the UK of taking £5 billion out of the industry?

The experts at Wood Mackenzie have already been quoted. They point out that if the oil price falls to below $20 a barrel, the mathematics of the formula currently proposed by the Treasury mean that 10 per cent. is the wrong figure if the Government want to raise the £100 million cited in the Red Book for 2002–03. For example, Wood Mackenzie calculates that an oil price of $19.50 would raise £127 million. That gives rise to the question of how sensitive that levy is to changes in the oil price.

Furthermore, the fact that the financing costs for debt cannot be set against the supplementary charge is a drawback to development. The UKOOA advises us:

"Debt finance is vital to be able to develop projects and could represent up to 70 per cent. of a project's development funding."

We shall have to go into some important questions in Committee if the Government are to justify that punitive measure.