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 my hon. Friend for putting that question, although it leads me into an area which now is not the time to go into—the whole question of the international competitiveness of investing in offshore activity in the United Kingdom.

My third point relates to capital gains tax. When the Government came in, they changed the capital gains tax regime with their complex taper measures, making the express argument that the longer one held an asset the better it was and the more virtuous it was. Now, they are touting it around that two years is the chosen period during which one can achieve a very low rate of capital gains tax. That is quite remarkable. If the Government are the sinner that repenteth, where is the analysis that suddenly states that to get a 10 per cent. effective rate in two years is a good thing, whereas when they first introduced the tapered tax the period was significantly longer? Why not go the whole hog and get rid of that complex, unnecessary part of capital gains tax? If people could move their capital quickly on to more profitable activity, I cannot but believe that that would be an engine for growth.

That is another example of where, instead of undertaking cost compliance modelling of their tax proposals, the Government should produce a well argued business case. Too many of the Government's proposals on tax are based on ideas that have no justification in fact. It is clear that the long-term, up-to-10-year taper had no economic justification, just as the two-year period is not justified—so why not zero?

The Red Book contains some further heroic work on oil fraud strategy. I welcome the proper working of the tax system and the proper collection of revenue, but how on earth are the figures in the Red Book to be achieved? The oil fraud strategy starts off at £100 million in 2002–03. In 2003–04, we suddenly find ourselves nearly three times better off and then there is a gargantuan leap to £550 million—half a billion. In 2004–05, we shall be five and a half times better at getting that money in than we were in 2002–03.

How is that trick to be pulled? What is the extent of the oil fraud that is going on? The House needs more convincing details, especially from a Government who are confronting a National Audit Office report that states, in paragraph 5.8 of its summary, that we face a VAT fraud bill of between £6.4 billion and £7.3 billion. Where is the analysis of what the Government have been doing to try to ensure that that missing money was collected? That sum is the equivalent of at least one year's increase in the national insurance charge. That is a major leakage. I want to be convinced that the Government are not merely publishing heroic figures and that the Red Book contains justification for the claim that such a huge sum of money can apparently be raised through the oil fraud exercise, even though there is no mechanism for doing that.

I am sure that we shall have many interesting and detailed discussions in the Finance Bill Committee. I hope that it might be possible for me to make a modest contribution to them. I also hope that when we debate the individual measures, the Government will, for once, give us much greater insight into what is going on and into the justification for the measures that they propose. I hope that the Government will not merely use their Committee majority to bludgeon through tax measures without giving us a thorough and proper explanation of what those measures are, what they do and how they will work. The Government must convince us that—unlike the film industry tax measures—they will actually work.