I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
This year's Red Book stated:
"Individual Savings Accounts . . . are the Government's primary vehicle for tax-advantaged saving outside pensions."
However, the Finance Bill contains no provisions to prevent the 10 per cent. tax credit for individual savings account and personal equity plan dividends from being removed after April 2004. As we well know, the removal of the dividend tax credit for pensions—worth £5 billion a year in tax—has resulted in typical personal pension savers retiring on half what they would have received only five years ago.
It was not surprising that the director general of the PEP and ISA Managers Association and the director general of the Investment Management Association wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on
"We were highly disappointed that there was no announcement in the Budget that the 10 per cent. dividend tax credit for stocks and shares ISAs would be extended beyond April 2004.
Our research, which we have shared with the Financial Secretary, among consumers and ISA providers clearly demonstrates that abolishing the dividend tax credit will significantly discourage, rather than encourage, equity based savings through ISAs. In the present investment climate, this is precisely the wrong incentive to be giving people needing to build their long-term savings."
The letter continues:
"In excess of 12 million ISA and PEP account holders will be disadvantaged, not to mention those potential savers that have already been dissuaded by the looming abolition of the tax credit, as ISAs will, according to the FSA, lose their tax-free status in 2004."
The letter urges the Government, at this late stage, to consider approving new clause 1 and says that it is important
"to extend the life of the tax credit and thereby the sustainability of Stocks and Shares ISAs for other than high rate tax payers."
I shall illustrate why we find ourselves in such an extraordinary situation. The Government are long on rhetoric by saying, "For the many, not for the few", but they are deliberately taking action to avoid prolonging an important tax credit with the intended effect—they cannot pretend that it is unintentional—of preferring the few higher rate taxpayers rather than the many, despite the fact that there is such a blight on all income groups' savings.
A PIMA press release was published on the same date as the letter and said:
"However, this figure of 12 million"— people—
"is not taking into account the number of potential savers that have already been dissuaded . . . Recent evidence shows that stocks and shares ISA Subscriptions have slumped by 40 per cent. in April 2003 compared to the same period last year, in spite of a surge in investment in bonds.
By removing the tax credit, PIMA research has shown that the Chancellor will significantly discourage rather than encourage, equity based savings through ISAs."
Mr. Tony Vine-Lott, the director general of PIMA, said:
"PIMA will continue to lobby for this recommendation throughout the passage of the Finance Bill. 12 million accounts is a significant amount and the Chancellor needs to recognise that the removal of the tax credit will do more harm than good for consumers and the savings industry alike". 2.45 pm
I have examined carefully the representations that we received, which happens with all representations received by the Opposition. It is important for those who observe our proceedings to have the opportunity to submit representations and for them to be reflected. I have given the comments careful thought. As hon. Members will note from the amendment paper, I, like several of my colleagues, have a registered interest, which I put on the record. It is no surprise that many of us hold PEPs and ISAs as part of our best efforts to save during our earning lifetime. We try to be responsible so that we will not be dependent on the state when we are no longer in a position to earn.
A representation that we received said that because
"the Government have promised to abolish the 10 per cent. tax credit that ISAs receive on dividend distributions . . . investment in Equity ISAs will only be attractive to higher rate taxpayers."
Perhaps the easiest way to explain the situation is to go through an example. Like always, it would be easier to use a slide-show presentation while dealing with figures, but as I cannot do that, I shall have a go at outlining my point.
Let us consider a basic rate taxpayer who receives a cash dividend from a company—outside an ISA—of £90. Under the current rules, which are familiar to most people, a notional tax credit of a ninth—£10—is added, which gives a notional gross dividend of £100. The situation is exactly the same for a higher rate taxpayer: £90 plus £10 equals £100. The basic rate taxpayer is taxed at 10 per cent., which means that there is a 10 per cent. deduction. The £10 tax credit is deducted from that, which effectively means that there is no tax liability. The cash dividend was £90, there was a notional tax credit of £10 and £10 of tax was deducted, so we return to a situation of no tax and £90 cash.
The situation is different for a higher rate taxpayer. After receiving a notional gross dividend of £100 made up of a cash dividend of £90 and a notional tax credit of £10, a higher rate taxpayer pays tax at a rate of 32.5 per cent. Therefore, he or she is liable to £32.50 of tax on the £100. The £10 tax credit is taken off that—although it is notional, it is removed—so the tax liability on a higher rate taxpayer is £22.50, meaning that the cash receipt is not the £90 received by a basic rate taxpayer, but £67.50.
Why is that important? In a basic rate taxpayer's equity or stocks and shares ISA, a cash dividend of £90 attracts a notional tax credit of £10, which adds up to £100. Of course, there would be a cash equivalent of £90. The situation is exactly the same as before: there is £90 real cash and lots of 10 per cents. flow all over the place for the purposes of the tax regime, meaning that basic rate taxpayers end up with £90 in their hands. A higher rate taxpayer also ends up with £90.
Let us consider what will happen after 2004 when the notional tax credit is removed from equity ISAs. The basic rate taxpayer would receive £90 cash but not receive the tax credit, and thus end up with £90 rather than £100, which was the case with the notional tax credit. The tax position would be reduced to £90, yet the cash outside an ISA would also be £90. What is the incentive for the basic rate taxpayer if the measure is removed? A higher rate taxpayer would end up with £90, nevertheless, versus £67.50. So there is a huge incentive for a higher rate taxpayer to remain in the scheme given that instead of receiving £67.50 outside an equity ISA, they will receive £90, whereas the removal of the £10 notional tax credit gives the basic rate taxpayer no incentive whatsoever. Unsurprisingly, the higher rate taxpayer will benefit. Why should the basic rate taxpayer, for whom the scheme has been an important part of their thinking and activity in terms of saving and the incentive to save, be penalised?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point and I have data to illustrate it. Sadly, I have become used to Ministers not wanting to hear the facts from us, but they should want to hear them from those whose evidence is less partisan. Every citizen of this country, not just the members of so-called middle England, have a right to think that the Government are trying to help them to save and to be responsible for themselves. Instead of that, however, we have a demeaning and individual-defying attempt to thrust everyone into dependency on the state by means-testing. The Government want people to be thankful for what they are doing rather than realising that they are getting in the way of their lives and freedoms.
When the Government unveiled ISAs in 1997, the then Paymaster General spoke of a tax system for savings that was
"to benefit the many, and not just the few".
The equity ISA tax credit does benefit the many, not the few, which is the point of the argument about seeking to retain the 10 per cent. The new clause is important because it would remove the scrapping of the tax credit, which gives a significant incentive for basic rate taxpayers to save and has proved extremely popular among that target group. ISAs are a well-known tax-free product which has become a familiar feature in the savings marketplace. Increasing the tax levels will increase confusion and may increase financial exclusion among the public.
I have referred to the helpful note issued by the two organisations. It says:
"The tax credit encourages investment in stock markets, which ultimately benefits the economy by providing additional capital to industry".
We should not lose sight of that fact. The benefits to the Government are that the
"tax credit encourages people to save money and build up a pool of savings to supplement their pensions."
We could have a wide debate on that, but you would be correct to haul me up for straying down that path, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, the claim resonates loud and clear not only with my right hon. and hon. Friends, but with Labour Members, too, if only some of them were decent enough to listen to our proceedings. Surely Labour Members recognise that their constituents are hammering on their doors about the attack on pensions. Our constituents are deeply anxious about the lack of security for their futures. How on earth will they cope when they can no longer make up for all the Government's mistakes and the shortfalls in the market when their earning lifetimes are over? I know that all parties are worried about that. It is very important.
The note also says:
"The ISA range is now well established in the public mind. ISAs have increased savings of people on lower incomes. The change proposed by the Chancellor will undermine investors' confidence in ISAs as a tax efficient form of savings and may reverse this savings trend . . . PEPs and ISAs have led the growth of retail funds over the past 10 years"—
I stress, led the growth—
"while investment in mutual funds outside PEPs and ISAs grew from £20.1 billion to £51.1 billion, PEP and ISA funds grew from £3.3 billion to £57.9 billion over the same period."
The Government have urged people to save and to make adequate provision for their retirement. They have tried to make savings products simpler. ISAs are a successful and simple savings product and should be at the centre of their strategy to encourage long-term savings. This is not the time to undermine them.
If the Government stick to their plans, equity ISAs will be disadvantaged compared with other ISAs. When we consider the importance of the composition of any portfolio and spread of risk, it is critical that the equity market is not disadvantaged in that way. We have already experienced the recent challenging and unnecessary pension tax grab by the Chancellor of £5 billion a year, which even on a notional basis amounts to £30 billion when one considers the compounding effect and the application of the stock market price earnings. The untold damage that the Chancellor has done to the stock market needs to be repaired by encouraging confidence in an equity ISA. That would bring people, not least those from the basic rate taxpayer target group, back into the market, which is critical if we are to take a responsible view of futures and pensions. If the proposal succeeds, people will be given an incentive to invest in cash and bonds, not shares, and that might not be the most appropriate investment for people's needs.
We also have to consider whether the Government have been consistent. In their response to the Sandler report—much trumpeted by the Government, although we cannot be sure whether they will get their stakeholder plans off the ground—the Government emphasised the importance of helping ordinary people to save more in the long term. Yet their plans would remove that savings incentive for ordinary basic rate taxpayers, precisely the people they want to target. ISAs and PEPs have been successful in achieving greater penetration of savings in every income group when compared with the penetration of PEPs and TESSAs. From the great founding of the PEPs and TESSA movement under the previous Government, which has been well regarded and understood, ISAs have made an even greater penetration, not least because of the 10 per cent. tax credit, which is critical.
The evidence for that comes from the Government's figures. We have only to refer to column 844W of the Official Report of
Research has been commissioned by the two organisations I mentioned and others. It found the following:
"If the tax-free benefit is reduced or abolished on stocks and shares ISAs, only a third of existing customers would continue to invest in these products. A knock-on effect for the rest of the equity markets could also be expected, as only two-fifths of customers would expect to invest in these commodities. Six in 10 consumers expect to seek alternative, tax-free investments in ISAs, with high interest accounts, pensions and cash ISAs being the likely beneficiaries. Seven people in 10 are of the view that the proposal would be seen as another Government stealth tax."
That is the opinion of independent research on the proposal. The people involved in the research obviously have an interest in terms of the marketplace, but they are rightly worried because they have ensured that the market has been well served and popular. The Government want to strike away that achievement. Unless they reverse their decision, I shall divide the House on the new clause.
I shall make only a short contribution, which perhaps befits my position as the only Labour Back Bencher in the Chamber.
Mr. O'Brien did not acknowledge all the Government's achievements. ISAs have been an extremely effective savings instrument, and we should protect them. Some of the information supplied by the hon. Gentleman illustrates that some ISAs are held inappropriately by non-taxpayers. That should give sections of the financial market cause to think about their selling methods. None the less, he did acknowledge that ISAs have been a huge success.
The hon. Gentleman was not entirely fair to the Government when he said that they were deliberately taking action on that. The opposite is true. When ISAs were introduced, the Government reserved the position of the dividend tax credit in ISAs until April 2004.
So far as I am aware, the Government have not struck a position on the future of the dividend tax credit or on any successor arrangement that might preserve the benefits of the DTC after April 2004. For the record, I do not possess any equity ISAs. I was one of the fortunate people who got out about six months before the stock exchange reached its height. However, we are talking about a feature of the ISA scheme that the Government should seek in some form, albeit not necessarily in its present form, to preserve. Those who hold equity ISAs have had a bad time on the markets. That being so, there is great reluctance to continue to invest in equity ISAs. It would be unfortunate if the DTC were withdrawn, and there was a market perception that that was a reason either not to invest or to sell up. That would be singularly unfortunate and might have the effect of producing market distortion at what I suspect, in April 2004, might be quite a sensitive moment.
There is another feature that needs to be examined, and that is that the dividend tax credit, as its name suggests, is given to dividends. People who invest in stocks and shares ISAs and hold them in the form of bonds are unaffected. It would be unfortunate at this stage in the development of the bond market if there were to be an apparent tax quirk that favoured building up investments in the form of bonds rather than in the form of straightforward equities. That would be an unintended distortion of the market, and it cannot be the Government's objective to allow that.
I hope that the Government will consider how the dividend tax credit within the equity ISA can be preserved in some form, albeit not necessarily in its existing form. I am not aware that the Government have yet struck a position on that. I hope that they will consider these issues extremely carefully and be able to come up with a scheme that will preserve the good common sense of the present arrangement.
I shall raise one specific issue that perhaps the hon. Member for Eddisbury was not able to cover. Perhaps it is appropriate for the Paymaster General to respond on the substance of the matter because she may have access to information that the hon. Gentleman would not have had when he made his comments.
First, what would be the cost of the new clause and the amendments that are essentially being proposed by the hon. Gentleman? We should know how much money we are talking about if we are to make the changes that the hon. Gentleman proposes. Secondly, what effect would his proposal have both on the total stock of savings and on the distribution of savings between different classes of assets? Perhaps we could not have expected the hon. Gentleman to be able to address that issue.
On the second point, I think that the movement would be upwards. That is the idea and the purpose. The hon. Gentleman wonders whether the Paymaster General will deal with specific cost. I, too, will be interested to hear what she has to say on that. In former times, it was expected that that might have been about £180 million. Over recent times, that is estimated to have come down to about £130 million. I put that on the record as an answer, to compare and contrast with whatever we may get from the Paymaster General.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That intervention was extremely helpful on two fronts, the second of which related to the effect on the total stock of savings, to which I shall return briefly. The first front related to the cost of the proposed measure. One beneficial effect of the hon. Gentleman's intervention may have been to give the Paymaster General time to gather her thoughts on the cost issue. I hope that she will be able to give us a detailed estimate of the cost.
In raising the issues of cost and the effect on the stock of savings, I wish to concentrate on what the effects of the hon. Gentleman's proposal may be. Although he has indicated that he believes that the effect will be to increase the stock of savings—presumably in a significant way, otherwise he would not have bothered to table and introduce the new clause—he will probably know that many independent economic commentators who have assessed the effects of tax relief on savings over many years, both in respect of PEPs and TESSAs, and also in respect of ISAs—have often expressed scepticism in their economic research about the effects of these tax incentives in terms of the total stock of savings.
In other words, evidence has often indicated that while tax reliefs can often benefit those who have savings, and while they may certainly effect the distribution of savings between particular financial assets, they do not always result in a significant increase in the total stock of savings. We may be talking about how tax relief is distributed across a particular group of taxpayers who are wealthy enough to be able to save, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the vast majority of taxpayers have incomes that are so low that they are not able to save. When we consider the new clause, we should have in mind not only what effect it will have and what its cost will be in terms of existing savers. We should surely be reflecting also on how the moneys might be used to restructure the entire system of savings and pensions—a very big issue at present—to help those at the bottom end of income distribution who, at the moment, do not benefit from the reliefs that we are discussing, and who, in a substantive sense, are too poor to save.
In addition to the citation from Hansard about what the Government said about the increase in savings in ISAs in 2001 over every income group, including, most significantly, the lower income groups, there was the increase in savings in TESSAs and PEPs during 1998–99. That gives some credence to the overall take-up. It is interesting that there is evidence to show that from 1992 to 2000 there was an exponential increase in retail funds under management, and therefore savings. We can chart the acceleration of growth in relation to the introduction of tax savings and tax attractive schemes throughout all income levels. With the higher rate preference, as it were, the proposal is rough on those who pay the basic rate of tax.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Of course, I do not want to take us too far away from the new clause. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would accept that it is one thing to demonstrate that particular forms of savings increased rapidly during a period when financial markets were buoyant, when people may have been switching savings between particular asset classes, and another thing to show that the total stock of savings has been increased by these types of relief. The evidence from many independent commentators, such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, suggests some scepticism about the effect of these sorts of relief on the total stock of savings rather than on distribution between different forms of financial assets. I hope that the Paymaster General will say something on that. Her response may help us to understand whether these types of relief in themselves are useful and efficient.
The tax relief has been welcome, and I disagree with Mr. Laws, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, in that to me it is self-evident that if people are offered an incentive to do something financially, they are more likely to do it. All these schemes have been actively marketed by City firms on the basis of the tax relief that is available, and they have been very successful. I have saved through TESSAs, PEPs and ISAs, and I know many others who have done similarly. That is because we do well by forgoing taxation on some of our savings out of income that has already been heavily taxed. We see that as an advantage.
I therefore welcome the decision of my hon. Friend Mr. O'Brien to highlight that as a major issue for debate, and to set out the Opposition's case for more savings and continuing with a family of tax reliefs to encourage that. One of the most worrying features of the Government's economic policy is the precipitate and continuous decline in the savings rate during their years in office. People have found it more difficult to save, as income has been taken away from them through stealth taxes of all kinds. They have recently suffered the double whammy of national insurance and council tax hikes, so they have less disposable income available to save. However, they have also faced a collapse in the returns on their savings. The Government have presided over a massive boom and bust in the equity market, which they did a lot to extend through their decision to take huge sums of money out of that market near its peak through their taxes on telecoms and pensions. We have moved into an era of low returns on bonds and deposits, which has been welcomed by borrowers but which, of course, has been upsetting for people who had saved for their old age, but who now discover that their deposit income is a modest fraction of what it was 10 years ago, through no fault of their own.
One would have thought that at this juncture the Government would want, first, to increase savings overall, responding to the collapse that they have helped to generate and, secondly, to increase savings through equity-type vehicles, claims on real assets and investments in productive British companies. One would expect them to want to do so now because the equity market has fallen a great deal over the preceding three years, so better values are now available, and because British companies have been starved of cash for some time and, in many cases, need to be refinanced. A better flow of new moneys from the share market in Britain to those companies would be welcome, and would enable them to begin to see again the opportunity both to strengthen their balance sheets and for new investment.
The new clause is not just about the question of the saver but the use that the money can be put to by companies through the UK marketplace. Another worrying feature of the Government's mismanagement of the economy is the fact that in recent years there has been a shortage of new money going into companies through the stock market. It would therefore be perverse in the extreme for the Government to remove one of the last remaining tax incentives for Mr. and Mrs. Everyman to save through company shares at exactly the point at which companies may again see the advantage of turning to stock markets and raising capital for their investment programmes. The House should therefore urge the Government strongly to pledge that they will not go ahead with their plan to remove that important last remaining tax relief.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury made it clear that it would be perverse of the Government to persist with their intentions, not least because helpful tax relief would be taken away from people on average or about average earnings who pay standard-rate tax. However, some benefit would be left for people on higher earnings. The Minister, in discussions on the Bill has been keen to close every conceivable loophole for people on above average earnings or who own assets of above average value. It would be interesting to hear why, in this case, she thinks that it is good idea to help people who are doing a bit better than average and clobber those who are not. I urge her to do the decent thing and affirm in the House that the Government do not wish to hit hard people on about average earnings who pay standard-rate tax, and that the tax relief will remain.
If the Minister cannot make that pledge or guarantee—I fear that she may not—she owes the House and the country an explanation of why the Government have such a downer on savings and savers and why they do not want to have any pro-savings policy at all. The Government have wrecked the telecoms industry with a £22 billion telecoms tax and the pensions industry with a £5 billion a year pensions tax—[Interruption.] Government Members are laughing, but they ought to talk to the people who lost their jobs, shareholdings and family livelihoods as a result of those punitive taxes. The Government are now offering to remove an important tax relief for non-pension savings.
I am probably wrong to be tempted to intervene, but I am grateful none the less to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He ought to acknowledge two things. First, his last speech was about rising housing asset values, so he should acknowledge that asset values possessed by ordinary British people have never been greater than they are now in all their various forms. Secondly, the telecoms sale was, indeed, a sale—the £22 billion was a market response. It turned out to be thoroughly ill judged, but it was a market response none the less.
It was a market response in a rigged market, where the Government decided to sell the air, for heaven's sake. Our air is always for sale with this Government, and I suspect that they will put a tax on breathing when they have run out of ways to raise money for their nefarious and often wasteful purposes. The hon. Gentleman made one sensible point—of course house prices have gone up, which has led to increases in paper wealth for many people and practically all home owners. However, unless people resort to massive borrowing against the perhaps insecure foundations of that inflated asset price, they are not better off. They still need to live in their own home, and do not have the real wealth generated by the ownership of a PEP, TESSA, ISA or any other asset that can be freely traded and spent when the need for money arises. The hon. Gentleman should therefore accept that many of us do not think that borrowing a lot against the security of our homes is a particularly good idea for consumption purposes, and particularly not as people get closer to retirement.
People are being driven into such behaviour by the wreckage and carnage of their pension funds, which was caused by the £5 billion a year tax and the Government's insouciance about equity values. I therefore urge the Government to accept the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury and add to the Bill his new clause, or a Government variant drafted as they see fit. That would show for the first time during their term in office that they recognise the plight of the saver and want to rescue something at least from the disaster that they have created.
The Government's proposal to abolish the 10 per cent. tax credit that equity ISAs receive on dividend distributions is one of the most ill considered measures in the Budget, and clearly shows that the Government have simply lost touch with what the people of country want and what business needs.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood rightly mentioned the savings ratio, which has collapsed in recent years, reducing the large number of savers whom Labour inherited from the Conservative Government. Low interest rates may be good for floating rate mortgages which, of course, the Chancellor wants to abolish. However, for every borrower there are many savers, including millions of pensioners, and it is they who have been suffering under the Government. Indeed, under the leadership of this Government, our savings culture has been transformed into a debt culture, with credit card debt sky-rocketing to unprecedented levels, despite a stagnant economy.
The Government have dealt with that serious problem by hitting savers once again and smashing one of the few remaining tax breaks. The savings culture and, dare I say, prudence have been chucked out of the window in the Chancellor's desperate attempt to raise more money to spend on the black hole of our unreformed public services.
Interest rates reflect international markets. However, one of the last remaining tax breaks which gave the average low taxpayer a small window of opportunity is now being locked firmly shut by the hon. Gentleman's Government.
Business remains concerned about the continuing slump in equity prices, and increased concern for the market is stopping investment in companies and reducing their ability to move forward. Businesses have been calling for measures such as the abolition of stamp duty on shares, but the Government are having none of that. Not only does stamp duty stay, but they are regressing by discouraging investment in shares. Let us not forget that business investment was 8 per cent. lower in 2002 than in the previous year—the largest fall since 1991. I repeat that the measure is bad for savers and will be bad for business. It is the measure of a Government who have lost their touch.
I am concerned about the abolition of the 10 per cent. tax credit for a number of reasons. The first is the simple unfairness of it. The only people for whom equity ISAs will remain attractive, as we have heard, are higher rate taxpayers. They will be the only people to benefit from the tax break in future, because they will not have to pay the difference between the higher and lower rate tax. Is that fair? I believe it is not. When the Government unveiled ISAs in 1997, we heard the Paymaster General shout from the rooftops that it was a tax system for savings that was to benefit the many, not just the few. Why do the Government appear to be discriminating against basic rate taxpayers in this form of saving?
Secondly, the measure goes against the Government's stated policy of encouraging long-term savings and encouraging people to make adequate provision for retirement. The current tax credit offers a significant incentive for basic rate taxpayers to save, and has proved to be extremely popular among that target group. The Government's own figures, for example, show how successful ISAs have been, building upon TESSAs and PEPs, in encouraging people in all income groups to save. I give one example. Of those earning under £10,000 per year, one in five has chosen to save in an ISA. That is an incredible figure.
There is little doubt that the tax credit encourages people to save money and build up a pool of savings to supplement their pensions, as they increasingly have to do, bearing in mind the pension tax that has sucked £5 billion out of the system and had a disproportionate effect on the stock market. I mentioned that one in five of those earning less than £10,000 was saving through an ISA. Looking at the broader income scales, we see that of those earning between £20,000 and £25,00, one in four saves in an ISA, and in the next group, those earning between £25,000 and £30,000, one in three uses an ISA as part of their long-term savings. The Government should not ignore those figures if they are serious in their intent to encourage savings for the longer term.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Treasury is classically guilty in this case, as so often, of short-termism in its thinking? If it pursues a policy that deters people on low incomes from saving in order in the short term to maximise its revenue, the chickens will come home to roost and the Government will ultimately face a higher bill to public funds in the form of means-tested benefits, as sure as night follows day.
That is an excellent point. There is a short-termism about the tax measure that worries me. It will contribute to a decline in savings over the longer term and add to the pension problems that the Government are manufacturing by way of the pensions tax. It is a problem that the Government will have to face over the longer term.
There is little doubt that the tax change proposed by the Chancellor will undermine investors' confidence in ISAs as a tax-efficient form of savings, and may reverse the savings trend that we have seen. ISAs are a well-known "tax-free" product, but the tax levels will increase confusion among the public. That will serve no one's interest—neither the Government's, nor the public's, as I have suggested. It is interesting that in the United States, the Government seem to be moving in the opposite direction. The US is cutting tax payable on dividends and encouraging savings and wider share ownership, because it realises the benefits of so doing. The American economy has performed well, and we should look at that example as a means of encouraging savings and wider share ownership.
The measure goes against the Government's longer-term aim of changing the proportion of public and private retirement savings from 60:40 to 40:60. The measure will not serve that purpose at all. I shall be interested to hear from the Minister how the Government believe the tax measure will help to achieve that stated objective. Recent research suggests that if the tax-free benefit is reduced or abolished on stocks and shares in ISAs, only one in three savers will continue to invest in that tax-free environment. That figure must worry the Government, if they are intent on improving the balance between public and private retirement savings.
I shall put two other brief points to the Minister, and I look forward to the reply. There is another sense in which the measure will distort the market. A number of other hon. Members have touched on the point. By reducing the tax incentive for people to invest in equity ISAs, the Government will increase the incentive to invest in cash and bonds, not shares. That probably will not be appropriate for most people's investment requirements. There is a danger that the Government will inadvertently create a scenario where the tax tail is wagging the investment dog.
People will increasingly see that there is no tax incentive to invest in equity ISAs, and may think that investing in cash or bond ISAs producing a higher short-term income is more appropriate, and certainly more attractive. Over the longer term, equities have proved to be the better investment. People of the younger generation especially should have a good element of their overall investments in equities, rather than bonds and cash. I ask the Minister to address the issue, because there is a danger that by removing the tax incentive for equity ISAs, the Government will inadvertently distort the market.
One or two other hon. Members have touched on my final point, which is about the way in which equity investment in the longer term benefits the economy. The United States fully appreciates that, which is why it has very recently reduced the tax paid on equity dividends in that country. We all know that economies and the business environment are becoming increasingly competitive. Companies must be able to look to stock markets to raise additional capital, but if shareholders shun the equity markets, that process becomes more difficult. Ultimately that has real economic implications for our standard of living and for the profits that pay for the public services that we all want.
To revert to the intervention by my hon. Friend Mr. Bercow, I emphasise that a short-term measure such as the Government propose will in the longer term produce a negative effect on the economy as a whole and the standard of living of us all. People will shun equity markets, which will ultimately have a detrimental effect on companies wanting to raise additional capital on the stock markets.
We have heard a full and useful exploration of the issues behind and surrounding new clause 1. Mr. O'Brien is right to say that the ISA is the Government's primary vehicle for savings. My hon. Friend Mr. Cousins pointed out that ISAs have been a great success. In fact, there are 14 million, not 12 million, investors in ISAs in this country—6 million more than the number of investors in TESSAs and PEPs at their peak—and ISAs are starting to reach those groups that were under-represented in terms of saving through PEPs and TESSAs. About 7.5 million investors have accounts with stocks and shares and thus attract the current tax credit.
The hon. Member for Eddisbury hugely overstates the likely impact of the proposed measure, which his new clause is designed to prevent. Referring to a point he made based on the PIMA analysis, it is true that there has been a switch into corporate bonds in recent times. However, that principally reflects the state of the markets. Bonds may be seen to be a safer investment. However, as Mr. Baron pointed out, bonds do not have the same potential for long-term growth that equities have. Investors will return to equities when they feel more confident about doing so, and the hon. Gentleman emphasised that he wanted that to happen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central explained his concern about recent investors in equity ISAs. I shall examine the considered points that he made in his short contribution, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will do so as well when she returns to take up the reins of this portfolio.
Does the Minister not agree that as a matter of principle, it is undesirable to have tax signals that could drive investment decisions? There are all sorts of reasons why people might buy bonds or equities, but the Government should recognise that a better deal on taxation of income being available on bond interest than on equity dividends will have an impact on the way in which moneys flow. In principle, that is not a good thing.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the fact that corporate bonds attract a relief at 20 per cent. and the tax credits are currently set at 10 per cent. However, I hope he understood my earlier point that that has not been a major driver of the recent switch to bonds.
The hon. Member for Eddisbury accuses the Government of imposing a stealth tax. A measure that was the subject of a high-profile announcement and was confirmed in the 1998 Budget, and one for which there is a long lead time and a five-year transition provision, can hardly be described as a stealth tax.
Mr. Laws asked the direct question about cost. The Treasury estimate of the cost of the new clause is approximately £200 million. The hon. Gentleman took me to task, claiming that the tax relief creates no new saving and that ISAs simply affect the distribution of existing savings. That is simply not the case. ISAs have been an undoubted success. More than £115 billion has been subscribed into ISAs since they began in April 1999; about 14 million investors—almost one in four adults in this country—hold ISAs—
Let me finish my point. I might pre-empt the hon. Gentleman's intervention. He is especially concerned about those on low incomes. In fact, the holding of ISAs has increased at all income levels.
I am grateful to the Economic Secretary for addressing my specific concerns. Given the amount that the Treasury is spending on ISAs through tax relief, will he tell us whether it has made any estimate of the effect in terms of increasing the overall stock of saving, rather than shifting between different forms?
I am afraid that I do not think that it is a narrow point. Unless those on the Treasury Bench know about the impact not only on one savings instrument, but across the range of savings, how on earth can they analyse and direct policy? If the Treasury does not know about that issue now, perhaps it should study it and investigate the effect on not only one aspect of savings, but on the overall savings ratio.
The hon. Member for Yeovil asked me whether I could give him an estimate of the precise calculation and I responded that I could not do so. I hope that that is clear.
At the risk of suggesting that Mr. Redwood overstated his case, I say to him that the scale of incentive, especially for the majority of investors—perhaps this does not apply to him—is modest. I shall explain the detail a little later. He asked what pro-savings policies the Government were putting in place—an issue that is relevant to the comments and concerns of the hon. Member for Billericay about balance between public and private pension provision. I could reel off a long list of such policies, but I shall not bore the House. A short list would include the Inland Revenue's simplification of tax treatment for pensions, the development following Sandler of a suite of simplified financial products to encourage saving, the child trust fund introduced by the Chancellor, the saving gateway—a savings account targeted at low-income or younger individuals, with Government match funding for all the money saved—and the Financial Services Authority's decision to proceed with the abolition of the polarisation regime.
I appreciate that the Economic Secretary is addressing each point in turn, but may I suggest to him that this is a question of proportion and effect? The point is that the number of ISAs has grown exponentially in recent years. While he lists a series of other initiatives that would encourage saving, the bottom line is that they are dwarfed by the total moneys that are currently contained in ISAs. The Treasury should bear that in mind.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman pays tribute to the success and growth of ISAs. Of course, the point that he makes is being borne in mind as we consider future policies.
I should like to deal now with some of the points that the hon. Member for Eddisbury made in the more measured parts of his contribution. He outlined his reasons for tabling his new clause and spoke about extension of the 10 per cent. tax credits payable on UK dividends in ISAs and PEPs beyond
I say to the hon. Gentleman that the ISA and PEP payable tax credit cannot be considered in isolation. It has to be considered in the context of the major and carefully balanced 1997 package of corporation tax reforms designed to rebalance the effect of corporation tax on the economy. Before that, the payable tax credits on dividends acted to make distributing profits more attractive than reinvesting for growth. We removed that distortion while reducing the rate of corporation tax. As part of the changes, pension funds' payable tax credits ceased in 1997 and individual non-taxpayers have not been paid the credit since April 1999. Charities' payable tax credits also ceased in 1999, although we gave charities transitional relief on a sliding scale until April 2004 to help them to adjust. We also wanted to allow ISA and PEP investors sufficient time to adjust their investment portfolios to take account of the change. Exceptionally, the 10 per cent. ISA and PEP payable credit has therefore been available for a period of five years, from April 1999 until April 2004.
Does the Minister accept that when these changes, whatever their merits, were made, the taxation of dividends received by individuals was adjusted to end up much as it had been? It is therefore inconsistent not to leave at least a modest tax advantage on equity investment within ISAs. There is no consistency between the two aspects.
I hope in a moment to explain the impact of the move that we have made.
The withdrawal of payable tax credits for ISAs and PEPs does not represent a new or additional tax: it simply means that an additional payment is no longer to be made. Of course, tax credits remain and continue to cancel out any tax liability for individuals liable to tax at lower and basic rates.
Will the Economic Secretary please address the point that I and other hon. Members have made, namely that many people feel that the removal of the tax credit discriminates against basic rate taxpayers because they gain no advantage whatsoever from investing in equity ISAs, whereas an advantage remains for higher rate taxpayers? The Government seem to be discriminating, however inadvertently or unintentionally, against basic rate taxpayers. Would the Economic Secretary address the unfairness of that situation?
I shall explain why the threat posed by the removal of this payable tax credit has been hugely overstated and why the claims about severe discrimination against those on lower incomes and lower and basic rate taxpayers are similarly overstated.
I am extremely grateful to the Economic Secretary. While he is dealing with the salient point raised by my hon. Friend Mr. Baron, will he also reveal to the House what assessment he has made of the likely increase in take-up of means-tested benefits as a result of the extremely short-sighted stance that the Government have adopted?
I have to be honest with the hon. Gentleman: I did not make that specific assessment as part of my preparations for dealing with the new clause.
Retaining the ISA and PEP 10 per cent. payable tax credit beyond April 2004 would unbalance the general package of reforms that we have put in place, which the hon. Member for Eddisbury described as the looming abolition of tax credits. Although he suggests that the ending of this payable tax credit will put off savers, especially those who are basic and lower rate taxpayers, from investing in equity ISAs, the average tax credit per person per year is only £25. For the majority, it translates into a reduction in tax benefit of less than that, and for more than 40 per cent. the reduction amounts to less than £10 a year. Two thirds will experience a reduction of payable tax credits amounting to less than £20 a year. Only 3 per cent. of basic rate taxpayers will experience a reduction in tax benefits amounting to more than £100. In recent times, a major factor in connection with confidence in equity investments has been the general state of the markets, not the threat of the ending of this payable tax credit.
After April 2004, ISA and PEP investors will still pay no income tax on the investment returns from their PEPs and ISAs. Other tax benefits, such as exemption from capital gains tax on long-term capital appreciation, and the fact that they do not have to return details of their PEPs and ISAs to the Inland Revenue, will remain attractive for many investors, including those who are lower and basic rate taxpayers.
For all those reasons, I am unable to accept the new clause. I hope that in the light of this useful debate, the hon. Gentleman will not press it to a vote; if he does, I shall have to ask my hon. Friends to vote it down.
The debate has been useful and notable because hon. Members from several parties have contributed. That includes the curiously supportive as well as curiously critical contribution of Mr. Laws. It was slightly "On the one hand, on the other". Mr. Cousins made a helpful contribution, and that description applies especially to the speeches of my hon. Friends. The figure of 14 million people has been mentioned, and lower income groups are targeted by another potential Government stealth tax. It has been said—not by me—that the Government's success over all income levels is now threatened. The ultimate issue was whether there would be a question mark over overall savings or shifts between different sorts of savings products. The Economic Secretary did not know. The last thing that Parliament should do is to risk diminishing savings; we should always try to enhance them. Removing section 76(1)(a) of the Finance Act 1998 and thereby retaining the 10 per cent. tax credit on the products that we are considering, especially for basic rate taxpayers, would be beneficial. Mr. Salmond expressed that well. We give that priority and I urge hon. Members to support the new clause.