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Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:20 pm on 20th April 2004.

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Photo of Mr Paul Boateng Mr Paul Boateng Chief Secretary, HM Treasury, The Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2:20 pm, 20th April 2004

Those figures are not accurate. The hon. Gentleman knows very well why it has been necessary to take the measures. The work of the National Audit Office, the investigation carried out by the Select Committee and the work of Customs and Excise all indicate a loss that needs to be addressed. We must be clear about this. Yes, it is right that there should be a fund to assist with capital investment. It is right, as Sir Robert Smith said, that we should take particular note of the position of small firms. That is why my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary has targeted the assistance at smaller firms in particular, in order to mitigate their upfront costs. Customs is having further discussions with the trade on design, terms and coverage. It is right that we address this mischief. I hope that in Committee, we will be able to build some sort of consensus around the need to tackle a serious fraud.

Together with these and other measures to safeguard fairness in the tax system, the Budget makes a real contribution, ensuring that everyone pays their way and that as little as possible is wasted through avoidance and fraud. It is important to tackle such behaviour and to ensure that taxpayers' money is safeguarded and spent efficiently.

Of course, fairness extends across the generations. The Government recognise that we have an obligation to future generations to pursue sustainable economic growth that delivers our economic, social and environmental objectives, and to meet our domestic and global responsibilities in that regard. Environmental action of the sort enshrined in the Budget and the Bill that puts it into effect is not incompatible with productive business. It is to the advantage of businesses to adapt and invest now in new practices, and so stay ahead of the global trend.

We have already made considerable progress with the environmental agenda through the introduction of measures such as the climate change levy, the United Kingdom emissions trading scheme, the aggregates levy, and support via the Carbon Trust and through enhanced capital allowances for energy and water-saving technology. These measures are not designed primarily to raise revenue, but to incentivise environmentally responsible behaviour by business.

In the Bill we will introduce new eligibility criteria for climate change agreements, which will increase the number of businesses that can participate in the scheme, boosting both the environmental impact and business competitiveness. Given business success in delivering on climate change objectives, and taking account of business competitiveness, we will freeze the rates of the climate change levy. There has been a real partnership between industry and Government in this respect and considerable progress has been made. We are keen to encourage households as well as businesses to tackle energy efficiency, and we have introduced a package of measures that includes incentives for the private rented sector to invest in energy efficiency.

The Finance Bill advances some of the key steps to ensure that the country has the means to meet the challenges of the future, but it is important for individuals to be able to do that too. That need drives our pension simplification measures, which are the most radical changes to the taxation of pensions for a generation. Simplifying the taxation of pensions is the cornerstone of making pensions easy for everyone to understand, thus enabling everyone to prepare for the future.

The eight different tax regimes for pensions were built on top of each other, leaving us with a maze of regulations through which the citizen and consumer must make their way, and often driving arbitrary distinctions between employees. We are sweeping away that complex system and replacing it with a single regime with an easily understood lifetime allowance for tax-privileged pension saving and a tax-free lump sum of up to 25 per cent. for all.

Annual limits on savings that vary according to an individual's age, the date on which they joined a scheme or the type of the scheme will end. As decision making becomes easier for savers, so administration will become simpler for employers and providers, which will reduce costs in the long run. Simplification matters if people are to save as flexibly as they now work. When we have simplified the system, it will be possible to draw a pension and carry on working for the same employer, perhaps for fewer hours a week. By creating a simple system that enables people to plan and save for their retirements, the Bill renews and affirms the Government's role in the UK pensions partnership.