I beg to move amendment No. 8, page 3, line 20, leave out from '(1)' to end of line 21 and add
'will have effect from a day which the Treasury may by order appoint.
(4) No order may be made under subsection (3) until—
(a) the Treasury has compiled and laid before the House of Commons a report containing an assessment of the impact of changes to the rate of capital gains tax on—
(i) businesses seeking investment,
(ii) investors who normally pay tax via capital gains tax, and
(iii) the availability and cost of houses to buy and rent; and
(b) the report has been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.'.
The amendment seeks to have the Treasury justify the changes it intends to make to the capital gains tax system and to have them approved by the House of Commons before any implementation. There are a number of reasons for that, which I will explain later, but the assessment that we seek from the Treasury will consist of three parts.
First and most important, what would the impact be on businesses seeking investment? For us, that is the most crucial area. As they stand, the Government's proposals will only damage business investment. For example, if someone who invests in a business and pays capital gains tax seeks the same cash return after tax under the changes, that will leave less profit in the pot for, say, a proprietor investor or a manager investor, who may no longer take the risk and seek that capital. If, on the other hand, the investor receives the gross amount and pays the additional tax under the new system, they may consider the risk not to be worth taking and decide to take their money elsewhere, perhaps out of the country.
Secondly, the Treasury should report on investors who normally pay tax via capital gains tax, not least because it would appear from all the reports that I have read and all the people to whom I have spoken that the changes to the rules have had the consequence, unintended or otherwise, of encouraging real investors to sell up and take their money out of businesses to avoid falling into the new tax regime. That has been evidenced by a flurry of recent newspaper reports, of which I shall give one or two examples.
"The unseemly dash by owners of companies and other assets to beat the April 5 deadline for the capital gains tax changes introduced by Alistair Darling reached a crescendo last week. This extraordinary flurry of mergers, acquisitions and other corporate finance activity, which started gathering momentum last autumn, was sparked by many business owners' decision that, rather than plough on with running their own businesses merely to hand over more money to the Exchequer, they would rather sell out now."
The article continued:
"It has also inspired entrepreneurs and company owners right across the Scottish and UK business and industrial spectrum to sell up—often to private equity and vulture funds."
The Fair Investment website put the matter similarly:
"Many UK business owners decided to sell up before the changes to capital gains tax took effect on April 6, while others transferred ownership to avoid the higher rate of tax."
"the busiest end of financial year in living memory" as investors rushed to sell up before the new laws came into effect.
It is not only newspaper commentators and financial advice websites that have been discussing the issue—practitioners have also been talking about it. I am grateful to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales for its comments on this matter. It says that these highly controversial changes were announced
"without proper prior consultation, with inadequate transitional provisions and with a lack of appreciation of the likely behavioural impacts and compliance costs that they would impose."
It also said that the announcements showed a lack of appreciation of the potential damage that they could
"inflict on the international reputation of the UK as a place to live, work and invest."
I agree entirely with its assessment of capital gains tax reform in the 2008 Budget that
"taxpayers should have been given more time to understand" the impact before implementation. That is fundamentally what I seek to do with amendment No. 8: have the Treasury provide all the detailed assessments that will be required for people to understand the consequences.
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Is there not a problem with that, in principle at least? If more time is given, that will allow the distortions that the hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier to happen, such as small business people wanting to sell when a radical change is proposed. How would his amendment get around that problem?
I was just about to make that point. The hon. Gentleman is probably right, on balance, in relation to the previous debate on corporation tax, to say that changing things now might create distortion and uncertainty. However, this measure was proposed in the pre-Budget report and there was a flurry of panic, mainly in the Government ranks. The Government then changed things to introduce the £1 million lifetime entrepreneurs' allowance, but there was still a lack of clarity—I know that from speaking to accountants close to the end of the financial year—so I am not convinced at all, in this case, that a small additional delay until we get clarity from the Government would deliver the instability that the hon. Gentleman describes.
The third area that the Treasury should report on is the housing market, particularly in areas of Wales, Scotland and elsewhere where there is pressure on house prices, a lack of affordable first-time accommodation, particularly for those on modest wages, and a shortage of affordable private lets. The paradox of the CGT changes is that not only are they damaging investment in business and possibly driving investors to take their money elsewhere, but they have made speculation in the private housing market more attractive. That is bizarre at a time when there was already huge pressure—particularly in high-pressure areas and remote, rural areas—and a shortage of housing combined with low wages. That is a catastrophic thing for the Government to do.
Again on the impact on business, tax is going up, as are costs such as fuel, energy and the transport of raw materials. Traditional funding routes have either dried up because of the credit squeeze or are very expensive, and the stock exchange and the alternative investment market are either inappropriate or too expensive for the kinds of businesses that seek private investment at the lower level. This is the wrong time to make changes to CGT that risk, even potentially, driving out investors from business. Let me give an example.
Historically, to get a stock market listing a company needed to be a £100 million-plus company, but the truth is that the figure was much bigger than that. Entry-level costs were £750,000, and so were fundraising costs; advisory costs were £250,000; and commission was 2 to 5 per cent. of the money to be raised. Even on AIM, entry level was about £300,000 and so was fundraising, commission was 2.5 per cent. and advisory costs were about £50,000. That was for companies looking to raise £2 million to £20 million. With traditional bank funding drying up and with other routes being beyond the means of most small companies, private investors were filling an important gap. If there is a risk—I believe the risk is real and serious—that the capital gains tax changes will force private investors with capital to take their money elsewhere, the change needs to be reviewed and revised. I was happy not to press my earlier amendment No. 7 on corporation tax, but although I will wait to hear what the Minister has to say and see whether she provides me with any comfort, if she fails to do so I am likely to press amendment No. 8 to the vote.
Most of the debate on the Bill so far has focused, quite understandably, on clause 3, which doubles the 10p rate of income tax. The Prime Minister is, of course, personally responsible for the changes in clause 3—and, indeed, clause 5, which we have just debated, as both were announced in the 2007 Budget.
Clause 6 is, by contrast, something of a home-grown own goal for the Chancellor, at least if we believe that he is the author of the 2007 pre-Budget report. Although the doubling of the 10p rate has delivered the short-term political damage, the fiasco of the pre-Budget report and the capital gains tax changes will have a lasting and negative effect on business sentiment. The manner of the introduction of such far-reaching changes to business asset capital taxation in the pre-Budget report—with no consultation, no forewarning and little thought—was damaging enough in itself, but the signal that Labour was willing to sacrifice the interests of business to short-term political advantage was more damaging still. The substance of the proposal, at a time when the economy is slowing and public concern about jobs and prosperity is growing, sends a hugely negative message to British business and to Britain's entrepreneurs.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the City of London's position as an international financial centre, the sense of indecision and dithering and the impression created that the Government are, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, seeking to make political capital out of the situation rather than having regard to the long or even medium-term economic welfare of the country is likely to be extremely damaging, not just for our domestic businesses but internationally?
My hon. Friend is right. It is not just a matter of those who are directly affected by the capital gains tax changes; it is part of a bigger picture of indecision, unsignalled change and lack of proper consultation on the business tax regime. If the Minister got out at all and talked to people in City boardrooms, she would know that that has become a real theme that we should all be seriously concerned about. There are two aspects to the problem. First, there is the substance of the changes that clause 3 introduces, which amendment No. 8 is designed to address; secondly, there is the manner in which they were introduced, particularly the lack of consultation, the lack of clear signposting and the reversal of what had been seen as a long-term commitment by the Government to a lower CGT rate for long-term gains. That, I suspect, as much as the substance of the measure itself, is extremely damaging to the climate for Britain's entrepreneurs.
By raising business taxes at a time when our competitors are cutting them to support investment and underpin their economies, the Government have undermined business confidence. The abandonment of what was an iconic long-term Labour policy of a 10p capital gains tax rate for long-term gains—announced with great fanfare by our present Prime Minister even before the Labour Government came to office—has dealt a blow to British enterprise and entrepreneurs at a time when we should be promoting it and them.
I have to say that we have a great deal of sympathy with the sentiment behind amendment No. 8, and I agree with almost everything Stewart Hosie said in introducing it. Regrettably, however, it would not quite do what its sponsors wish it to do. It would indeed postpone the change in the main rate from 40 to 18 per cent., but because the implementation provision that the amendment would introduce covers only subsection (1), schedule 2 would be effective anyway, ending taper relief and indexation. It would, I think, have the opposite effect to that which the hon. Gentleman seeks, in that it would push the effective CGT rate on business assets up to 40 per cent., rather than leaving it at 10 per cent., as he intends.
For reasons that I shall outline, we believe that the Government need to go back to the drawing board on CGT reform, consult properly and come forward with a comprehensive set of CGT proposals that recognises the need to promote long-term investment and encourage entrepreneurship.
The amendment calls on the Government to measure and report on the impact of the proposed changes on business investment, the tax burden on investors and the housing market—in particular, the buy-to-let market. As my concerns relate to precisely those areas that the hon. Gentleman outlined—even though my solution is to vote against clause stand part, rather than to support the amendment, for reasons I have explained—I hope that it is convenient for me to set them out now, as time is limited, so that we might not need a separate clause stand part debate.
It all started with the pre-Budget report; hon. Members will remember that saga. The pre-Budget report was brought forward to early October so that it could act as a pre-election Budget—a showcase for whatever bribes the Prime Minister would offer the nation in the election that never was. That plan was torn up when the Prime Minister bottled it and canned the election for reasons that, we are assured, had nothing whatever to do with the opinion polls. The pre-Budget report— [Interruption.] I hear sceptical comments from those on Benches behind me, but I could not possibly comment.
The pre-Budget report still had to go ahead on
"policy making on the hoof."
And it showed—in the lack of consultation on proposals for major changes to business taxation and the complete absence of a coherent narrative as key parts of Labour's long-term business tax strategy were discarded overnight without explanation or warning.
The words of that pre-Budget report speech were scarcely out of the Chancellor's mouth before they were drowned out by the crashing of gears being thrown into reverse. It was hours before Downing street was briefing against the Chancellor, and just days before the climbdowns began, but the damage to Britain's reputation as a business-friendly economy will take longer to reverse. I say to the Minister that the damage to Labour's reputation as a business-friendly party may be irreversible.
A common theme is beginning to emerge from the PBR: the systematic subordination of the long-term interests of the country—even as identified and clearly set out by the Labour party—and of our economic future to the short-term political agenda of our Prime Minister.
The Chancellor's claim that his CGT reforms were made in the name of simplification was as bogus as the same claim made for the abolition of the 10p income tax rate. The proof is in schedule 3, where the complex and still extremely unclear entrepreneurs' relief adds a tier of complication to the system that was supposed to be simplified. This is a missed opportunity for comprehensive modernisation of business capital taxes based on a full, extensive and genuine consultation. In fact, the capital gains tax change was a straight tax grab, originally designed to raise £900 million a year for the Treasury, and a wildly misplaced attempt to address the issue of taxation of private equity-carried interest—something that had been exercising the Government and the trade unions before the pre-Budget report and, ironically, a problem that now looks likely to have gone away all by itself, as the bank credit on which private equity deals depend has all but dried up.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how his party would pay for the consequences of rejecting the proposed change, bearing in mind the comments of his right hon. Friend the Member of Witney (Mr. Cameron), who has said that people should
"never believe a politician about tax or about borrowing unless they are prepared to take tough decisions about public spending"?
I think that that question deserves an answer.
As I have said, what we are trying to do is persuade the Government to go back to the drawing board with their business capital tax proposal and look at it again. If we are successful in the vote on clause stand part, we shall not expect the Government to roll over and play dead, and to accept that as the end of the game. We shall expect them to do some work on these proposals, and then bring back to the House a properly thought out package of capital gains tax reforms on which they have consulted properly with the business sector—unlike the proposals announced in the pre-Budget report—so that we can proceed in a way that does not deliver a blow to British business, British entrepreneurs and British enterprise at a time when our competitors are supporting their companies and their entrepreneurs, and our economy is slowing.
I am always interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's comments at the Dispatch Box, but I want to press him once more. The costs of the capital gains tax reform, including entrepreneurs' relief, are £250 million this year, £300 million next year and £500 million in 2010-11. Those are real costs. Can the hon. Gentleman say more than simply that he would seek a postponement, and that the Government would fix the mess that he would get us into if we accepted the amendment?
Actually, the Government got themselves into this mess by meddling with a vital part of the business tax system without any advance signalling and without any consultation.
Let me now put a question to the Minister. Given that she is so worried about the danger of creating little holes here and there in her Budget, where did she find the £400 million that is the difference between the £500 million yield that she has just announced for 2010-11 and the £900 million yield that appeared in the pre-Budget report before the Chancellor executed his U-turn and introduced the entrepreneurs' relief? I shall be happy to give way to her again if she would like to tell the Committee where she found that £400 million, given her concern about identifying all these parcels of money. However, she appears not to wish to tell us where she found it.
The Minister seems to have no compassion for entrepreneurs who have run their businesses for a long time on the basis that the receipts at the end of their working lives will provide for their pensions. Does the Minister recognise, and does my hon. Friend agree, that the harm being done to those pensioners is unacceptable and has not been thought about at all?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Many small business people regard the businesses that they are building up as their pension pot, but it is not just individuals who are suffering harm from these measures. This is not just about some business people or entrepreneurs who will be less well off, less motivated and less incentivised than they might have been The real issue is that as enterprise goes elsewhere and investors take their money and expertise elsewhere, the big loser will be UK plc, and it is our prosperity and our jobs that will suffer as a consequence.
We can add to the list of 5.3 million low-earning families and the owners of small companies at least 270,000 of the 1.7 million employee shareholders, as well as the farmers and other business people whose assets will not be eligible for entrepreneurs' relief and those who will lose out from the scrapping of accrued indexation as losers from the Finance Bill. As we also must add the serial entrepreneurs and the business angels providing finance to them—people who have been so important in maintaining the level of innovation and business formation in our economy—it is UK plc that becomes the clear long-term real loser from the measure.
Only new Labour could devise a business capital tax system that incentivises modest success in lifestyle businesses with entrepreneurs' relief but penalises the growth of the scalable enterprises that will deliver the prosperity of tomorrow; one that halves the rate of tax on buy-to-let landlords and second homeowners while increasing it by 80 per cent. on serial entrepreneurs and up to 260 per cent. on some employee shareholders; one that rewards short-term, quick-turn investors with CGT rates well below income tax while increasing the effective rate most on the very longest of long-term investors who stand to lose most from the loss of indexation relief on all assets held before 1998. The Prime Minister's moral compass appears to be pointing in increasingly bizarre directions.
If the clause survives a stand part vote this afternoon, schedule 2, containing the detailed measures to scrap taper relief and indexation, and schedule 3, containing the details of entrepreneurs' relief, will be considered in Committee. We will need to look in great detail at the mechanics of entrepreneurs' relief—who will get it and who will not—and at the consequences of the taxation of inflationary gains at 18 per cent. in a world without indexation or taper relief.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend is coming to the end of his comments and he is making a very good case in respect of the confused nature of the Government's dealing with the matter in the run-up to October and, more particularly, in the panic since. To try to pre-empt the Financial Secretary's comments, I should say that one positive side of what was perhaps intended at the outset—although my hon. Friend has raised some doubts about its real nature—is the idea of simplification. Will he make it clear that we in the Conservative party very much favour the idea of simplification but that, obviously, during the past six months we have seen some object lessons in how simplification should not be carried out?
Of course simplification of the tax system is a good thing in itself, but not at any cost. We have ended up with the worst of all worlds, a system that disincentivises entrepreneurship and yet has created a regime more complex than the one it replaced.
Entrepreneurs' relief is a fudge. It was a hastily cobbled together minimum concession to buy off the most numerous, although not necessarily the most economically important, group of losers from the pre-Budget report changes. We will need to review how it works for employee shareholders; for investors in the highest risk companies that might historically have listed on a junior stock market; for members of limited liability partnerships, who seem to have been forgotten in the drafting of these provisions; and for the market in insurance bonds, which, on the face of it, will disappear under these proposals.
This is an ill thought out measure, introduced without consultation or early warning. It has imposed a huge retrospective cost on thousands of businesses. At a stroke it has withdrawn the single tax measure, taper relief, that had been held aloft as the symbol of new Labour's commitment to business. It was hailed as a simplification but it was a simple stealth tax. Because it was made up on the hoof without a consensus behind it, the Chancellor had to back down at a cost of some hundreds of millions of pounds, and the Financial Secretary cannot tell us where that money is coming from. The Chancellor introduced the entrepreneurs' relief and thus created a system more complicated and more unfair than the one it has replaced.
At the end of this little charade, as we face a global economic slowdown, we have a capital gains tax system that not only increases taxes on business entrepreneurs, but will be less fair in operation, will encourage short-termism and will be more complicated than the regime it replaces. This cannot be the way forward.
I would have liked to support the amendment but, for the reasons I set out earlier, we believe that it will be more effective to send a signal to the Government by voting against clause 6 stand part and by asking the Government to go back to the drawing board, to look again at the package of proposals, to consult properly with business and to come back to the House on Report with something a little better thought out.
This feature of the Bill is a classic example of what a Government do when they are driven by political considerations rather than the overall requirements of the economy. At the Conservative party's autumn conference in September of last year it put forward a series of proposals on taxation in anticipation of a possible general election—of course, none of them went any way to helping people who had been adversely affected by the doubling of the 10p rate, but we will come to that later. The Government felt they needed to respond to the Conservatives' apparent seizure of the initiative and as a result the Treasury was thrown into an exercise. That process may have lasted only a couple of days but, in that time, the Treasury went from having a blank sheet of paper to drawing up a series of taxation proposals that would have a deep and significant effect on business and on our economy.
My party has a different view from that of the other parties in this House on how much money capital gains tax should raise and what its role should be in relation to other forms of taxation. The parallel that my party draws is between the taxation rate paid by people who are taxed on their capital and the rate paid by those who are taxed on their income. I am extremely supportive of wealth creation; we need an economy that generates prosperity so that people can prosper in their private lives and so that we can afford to fund key public services. However, it offends the sensibilities of the Liberal Democrats and many millions of people throughout the country that there are people in Britain, who work in private equity and the like, who pay a much lower marginal tax rate than the people who clean their offices. In our view, that cannot be right.
Our starting point is that capital gains should be taxed at the same rate as income, as was the case under Nigel Lawson when he was the leader of the Thatcherite vanguard in the 1980s. This is hardly a particularly left-wing policy; it is entirely in tune with what other Governments have proposed in the past. The danger otherwise is that people with good accountants who are able to convert their income into capital will pay considerably less as a share of tax, and we will effectively create a two-tier system: one for those who are taxed on the money they take home at the rates we will now have to get used to—20p and 40p, with national insurance contributions in line with that—and another for those who enjoy much more favourable rates of taxation, despite having considerably higher earnings.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in the world in which we actually live, where both capital and many of the most innovative entrepreneurs are mobile, the benchmark must be not what Governments did in the past, but what other Governments are doing now in creating regimes that our entrepreneurs and businesses have to compete against?
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I return him to the point that there is a large amount of mobile labour comprising people earning considerably smaller sums who are being expected to pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than people who are able to convert their income into capital; there are people who are able to move freely across the European Union for whom that is the case. The Liberal Democrats do not wish the overall share of taxation to rise as a proportion of gross domestic product. We would, however, ask something of high earners—who currently pay lower marginal rates than those who clean their offices— so that people on lower incomes could pay a lower marginal rate. Both the Conservatives and Labour are unable to match that commitment.
Is not the problem with what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting the fact that that mobile wealth creation will leave these shores and go elsewhere? Although I fear that it does not fall within the context of the clause, a discussion of the benefits of globalisation is legitimate because far too many people in both the first world and developing countries are perhaps being left behind. Is not the reality of his policy that it would simply impoverish this country while we bought into the notion, to which most political people in this country and on other shores would subscribe, of globalisation as being a good?
I am grateful for that point, although we are slightly going round in circles.
There are many benefits of globalisation for which the case is not made sufficiently frequently. Not only is globalisation beneficial for many millions of people in this country—I believe in free trade, and in goods and services flowing around the world, because that generates prosperity—but it offers the best prospect for billions of people in China, India and other Asian countries to have levels of prosperity that they have not enjoyed previously. There is no other way in which they are likely to achieve those standards of living.
Let me answer the question by flipping it on its head; the onus is on both Labour and the Conservatives to make the moral case for a cleaner who earns £10,000 a year paying a higher marginal rate of taxation than the boss of the company whose offices he or she cleans, who takes home £1 million in the form of capital. There is a genuine debate to be had about that. Mr. Field, who represents large numbers of people—more than any of the rest of us—who fall into both categories just put forward the argument, as do the Government, that it is morally right that cleaning staff should pay a higher marginal rate. I merely inject a note of controversy into the debate by saying that I do not agree.
The changes made by the Government have resulted in a perverse set of consequences. The Budget proposals reward property speculators while penalising people who have run small family businesses, and many small investors—perhaps employee share scheme holders—lose as a result. In addition, because the changes were introduced in a haphazard, short-term fashion with inadequate consultation, many people have been unable to prepare for them in a way that most people would consider reasonable.
The effect has been, as Mr. Binley described, that people who have worked and planned on the basis of a tax regime that they thought would affect them when selling their small business at the end of their working life, and who had a legitimate expectation that if the tax regime was to change they would have long enough to change their behaviour to take account of the alterations, have suddenly had the changes sprung on them without adequate time to make the necessary adjustments to their circumstances.
That introduces what feels like a retrospective degree of taxation. Although it is not strictly speaking retrospective, that would be the outcome for people in terms of the practicalities of selling a business in a short time scale. Even the Government's U-turn—
The hon. Gentleman asks which U-turn; I shall come to many of the others later in our deliberations. The specific one is the £1 million of relief for entrepreneurs. Even that carries problems for people who are serial entrepreneurs, whose business is to rapidly grow and sell companies. That is a legitimate and healthy business model that contributes to the overall growth of the economy, but those involved are penalised by the proposals in a way that people who stick with one business over a longer period of time are not.
For all those reasons, we disagree with the approach that the Government have taken to these matters. We do not think that they are fair, and the system of implementation has not been effective. We will vote accordingly.
Clause 6 sets the stage for the first of this year's U-turns from the Chancellor and I hope that we will have a little clarity from the Financial Secretary about the Government's motivations. "Start as you mean to go on" is probably not a maxim on which the Chancellor should rely, as he and the Prime Minister continue to lurch seamlessly from credit crunch to credibility crunch. The Chancellor's last few months in the Treasury would have done the three stooges proud, although I do have some sympathy for the fact that he seems to have become the Prime Minister's one and only stooge when it comes to taking the consequences of unpopular taxation.
To give credit where it is due—and notwithstanding the comments made by Mr. Browne—Ministers were always adamant in their public statements that there was no special loophole in the taxation of the private equity industry, and that was indeed the case. But faced with pressure to close a loophole that did not exist, the Chancellor did the next best thing and threw the baby out with the bathwater by abolishing taper relief altogether.
We are entitled to ask about the principles underlying the change as much as about the impact of the change itself. Was it simply designed to target a small number of individuals—with the damage to businesses and angel investors viewed as the necessary price to be paid—or was there a genuine principle and strategy involved? What, indeed, is the Government's current direction of travel on the taxation of business, the stability and predictability of that taxation and the encouragement of long-term investment? Those are legitimate questions that still need to be answered.
What we do know is that clause 6 represents a tax hike of some £700 million, even with the last-minute concessions subsequently offered by the Government. But the potential cost to the economy of the proposed changes dwarfs the money that the Treasury hopes to raise through them. Capital gains tax has never been a big revenue raiser and the tax base has never been very wide, raising just £3.8 billion from 266,000 individuals in 2006-07, rising to £4.8 billion on the original forecast of the pre-Budget report. Nevertheless, it has significant potential as a disincentive to long-term investment—the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Hammond.
The only benefit to the economy presented by the Chancellor's erratic driving on capital gains tax reform has been the thousands upon thousands of hours of overtime worked by lawyers, accountants and financial advisers up and down the land as they struggled amidst a dearth of information in order to give their clients reliable advice in advance of
Weighed in the balance against these detriments are two attempted defences from the Chancellor—consultation and simplification. Announcing the entrepreneurs' relief on
"Of course we will listen to what businesses—small and large alike—have to say. It is important that we introduce the right tax regime."
That is what he said as he frantically back-pedalled away from the tax regime that he had announced just months before. But he only cocked his ear to listen to the business community after he had announced his proposed change in the pre-Budget report and discovered that those in the business community felt that he was cocking his leg at them instead.
I am intrigued by some of the rationale that was deployed to explain away the lack of consultation. The Treasury claimed, for instance, that there had been no consultation because the change to CGT was a simple rate change and not a reform. In an amusing contrast, the explanatory notes for the draft legislation were subsequently headed "Capital Gains Tax Reform". Leaving aside the fact that the rate change was some 80 per cent., does the Treasury still believe that clause 6 is a simple rate change and not a reform?
I do not wish to stray wide of what we are discussing today, particularly as much of the detail that appears in schedule 2 and the proposed entrepreneurs' relief in clause 7 will be discussed in more detail upstairs, but it is nonsense to suggest that it was proper that such a radical increase in the burden of taxation should have been proposed entirely without consultation with the business community.
The Chancellor used the pre-Budget report to launch his bombshell, when the whole point of the pre-Budget report is to lay out proposals for consultation. The whole idea was that the Budget process should become more transparent and more of a two-way process for those affected, so that we would not have all these U-turns and problems halfway through the financial year.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point that supports my argument.
The second canard in play here is that clause 6 represents the best intentions of good government in implementing a desirable tax simplification. This figment also crept bashfully on to the record on
"I am trying to simplify the tax system, which is something that people in the House and outside have asked successive Chancellors to do."—[ Hansard, 24 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1635-6.]
The Chancellor has apparently convinced himself that he was merely being responsible and responsive to the House, or perhaps the new clutch of special advisers from next door in No. 10 have convinced him. Indeed, the Chancellor is setting new records in responsiveness to the House, given the sheer number of times that he has had to come to the Dispatch Box to apologise, explain and dilute.
What the Chancellor is not doing, and what the Government have so signally failed to do while in office, is simplify our tax law. I need point no further than the 1,148 pages of explanatory notes, in four volumes, that accompany this year's two volume Finance Bill. Perhaps the Government should look at offsetting the carbon cost of printing it. But only a Labour tax simplification could introduce new complexity, as we saw last week with the other major "simplification" in the Bill that has gone a little awry.
In the spirit of both those supposed simplifications, it might be worth dwelling a little on the question of winners and losers. Richard Mannion, writing in the journal of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, put the point quite simply:
"While any significant regime change like this would be likely to result in both winners and losers, the main losers on this occasion were business owners and entrepreneurs, the very people that the previous chancellor had set out to encourage with the effective CGT rate of 10 per cent. on business assets."
Once again, it is not so much a question of whether there are losers but of who the losers are.
The Government's erosion of competence has been matched by the erosion of confidence in their handling of business taxation. As John Wright, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, has said, the botched CGT changes have
"seriously eroded small businesses' trust in the government."
So, if, "Start as you mean to go on" is not exactly a guiding light for the Chancellor, perhaps he should stick with, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The UK is in the throes of a liquidity crisis in the wholesale markets, which is severe enough to warrant billions of pounds of taxpayer-backed intervention from the Bank of England. One of the side effects of the liquidity crisis is the potential impact on retail investor confidence as investors fall back on safer, more liquid investments. In the middle of that turmoil, the Government are doing away with a tax relief that was designed to encourage people to invest over the long term in relatively illiquid asset classes, such as unquoted shares, family businesses or venture capital enterprises.
We should not forget that the Prime Minister's introduction of taper relief was couched in uncompromising terms. He said:
"We must do more to increase the quantity and quality of long-term investment. The capital gains tax regime that we inherited rewards the short-term speculator as much as the committed long-term investor."—[ Hansard, 17 March 1998; Vol. 308, c. 1101.]
Yet at the very time that the Government ought to be looking at whether it would be appropriate to offer additional inducements to long-term investors, they are moving in the opposite direction.
The Chancellor's January statement also put a great deal of store in the capital gains personal allowance. He mentioned it several times, as if to suggest that its continued existence compensated in some way for the 80 per cent. tax hike. However, a personal allowance does nothing to encourage an investor to hold illiquid assets when gains cannot easily be crystallised and netted annually. It was soon clear that the personal allowances alone were totally inadequate when it came to the expectations of the business community, so another fudge was cooked up.
"superficially quite clever and on the surface might seem like a relief" but that results in even the smallest business owner being worse off than before. However, I prefer to look directly at one of the architects of the scheme. Edward Troup, who is now director of business and indirect tax at the Treasury, wrote witheringly in the Financial Times in January 2002 complaining that the Prime Minister's original introduction of taper relief had pandered to political lobbying and had
"created further distortions and directionless complexity."
"Pragmatism has been replaced by opportunism masquerading as principle. The clock should be rolled back. A single rate of, say, 20 per cent applied across the board would stop the worst excesses of avoidance without creating undue distortion."
Mr. Troup might have got his single rate but he also got more than he bargained for in the way of "directionless complexity" from his political masters.
It has become easy in recent weeks to poke fun at a Government who are at war with themselves. It is perhaps more worrying that Treasury officials do not seem to be on the same page as Treasury Ministers. Officials seem to like the idea of brutal simplicity, even when the burdens fall disproportionately. Ministers, on the other hand, do a good line in opportunism masquerading as principle. Members of the Committee will know of my background in the venture capital industry and I want to conclude my remarks by focusing on the support available to serial angel investors.
The Chancellor has proposed a complex package that includes a lifetime capital gains tax allowance for capital gains arising from the sale of business assets. I have no doubt that after months of confusion the scheme is of some comfort to small business men who have a lifetime of work invested in their family businesses. It does absolutely nothing for the committed business angel who shoulders the burden of risk, time and again, to help with the process of genuine wealth creation in this country.
There is little sense of continuity in the Government's thinking on that point. It is only necessary to look back to the Standing Committee debates on the Finance Act 2002, when the qualifying period for taper relief was shortened. My hon. Friend Mr. Hoban hit the nail on the head when he asked the then Economic Secretary a simple question:
"If long-term investment is good and short-term bad, why are the Government shortening the taper?"
The answer he got was very clear, if a little short-tempered. The then Economic Secretary said
"venture capitalists and other early-stage investors frequently invest with a view to realising their capital in less than two years, so we have designed the taper specifically to take into account the natural mode of operation and interests of venture capitalists, and their investments in start-up businesses."—[ Official Report, Standing Committee F,
In other words, the relief had been retooled to benefit the very group that seems to have sparked off the latest ill-considered reform of CGT, which is the group that will now see little benefit from a lifetime capital gains tax allowance.
When Mark Neale, managing director of budget, tax and welfare at the Treasury, gave evidence to the Treasury Committee following the pre-Budget Report, he took pains to emphasise how "carefully" the Treasury had considered the Chancellor's original announcement. His reasoning—that taper relief was a successful short-term incentive that had outlived its usefulness because it attracted tax avoidance—was a new departure for the Treasury and broke with years of momentum.
Does my hon. Friend agree that even if taper relief had outlived its usefulness—I do not believe that for a moment—it is imperative that the Government signal an intended change of direction well in advance and consult widely on it, otherwise, the impression is created that policy is being made on the hoof? Frankly, that invites investors in this country to apply the same kind of risk premiums for lack of certainty in policy that they might more typically apply in less developed economies.
As always, my hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We made that point in the debate on the previous clause. It shows the lack of predictability, consistency, planning and consultation in the Government. We need planning. We need to consult thoroughly with businesses so that they can plan in the long term, not the short term.
Mr. Neale's justification for the change of direction was that the Treasury was
"taking this step both to simplify the tax and to put it on a long-term basis."
That statement was made on
In January, the Chancellor also seemed keen to emphasise that there were many alternatives for helping small businesses such as venture capital trusts and the enterprise investment scheme. However, venture capital trusts have been endlessly tinkered with by the Government. I remember the Committee's discussions on the second Finance Act of 2006, when the gross asset value for VCT investments was lowered to focus investment on small companies and, at the same time, the incentive for investors was cut by an increase in the tax they had to pay.
The VCT regime has been a story of fluctuation and indecision, year in, year out. It sits badly with a capital gains tax regime that fluctuates not only year by year but month by month, yet the VCT regime is one of the crutches that the Chancellor is using to prop up his latest ill-fated reform. The Chancellor must decide which road he wants to follow: targeted incentives to encourage specific policy objectives, or a simpler, flatter tax.
Does my hon. Friend agree that what we are discussing is a vital part of making, and keeping, Britain competitive as we move into much more uncertain times. Does he share my astonishment that there is not a single Government Member on the Government Benches apart from the Whip, the Minister and the Parliamentary Private Secretary? Does that not tell us something about the level of Labour's commitment to the businesses and the entrepreneurs of this country?
I must agree with my hon. Friend—it shows almost the contempt in which the Government hold small businesses, which are the engine of the economy. I made the same point in our debate on the previous clause—there was not a single contribution from Labour Members to that debate.
A well-timed intervention.
As I was saying, the Chancellor must decide which road he wants to follow: targeted incentives to encourage specific policy objectives, or a simpler, flatter tax. He cannot have his cake and eat it, but that is what he is attempting to do in this year's Finance Bill.
Mr. Hammond was rather skating on thin ice, as he drew attention to the fact that there was one Conservative Back Bencher in the Chamber, although it is true that the Labour Benches are even more thinly populated.
Clause 6 and schedule 2 introduce the central reform elements announced in the 2007 pre-Budget report. The changes replace layers of complex rules built up over many decades with a significantly simpler framework. In particular, a number of old reliefs are abolished, leaving an easy-to-understand tax-free allowance and a single headline rate of tax. I make those opening comments to set the scene, but I want to return rapidly to the brief exchange between the hon. Gentleman and myself.
Stewart Hosie, whom I compliment on tabling the amendment and encouraging us to hold this important debate, raised a number of serious points and questions, and I was interested in the examples that he drew from Scottish experience. He spoke on behalf of the Scottish National party, who are in government in Scotland, so he bears a similar responsibility to the Opposition Members whose party would be in government. That is why the comments of Mr. Cameron are important, and why the House requires a clear explanation of what those parties would do if their amendment was not carried, and how they would cost the consequences.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge asked me to explain the difference between the figures published in the PBR and those published in the Budget. We can argue about the figures, and it is right that we should do so, but there will be significantly more than a little hole if he does not accept that the clause should stand part. The figure in the 2007 pre-Budget report for 2010-11 was £900 million. The figures published in the Budget do not separate out the final estimated cost of entrepreneurs' relief. The decision was made in the light of the whole score card, and the costs of the 2008 Budget are therefore somewhat less—£250 million per year; £350 million next year; and £500 million in 2010-11. We have costed the measures, and the hon. Gentleman needs to explain how he would cost such an action, and the decision that he is encouraging Conservative Members to make.
The Minister has costed the measures, but she has not told us where the Government found the money. That is important, because we have had a similar debate on the 10p tax rate. If the Government can spirit up money when they need it for things that they choose to do, why can they not spirit it up to solve other problems?
Entrepreneurs' relief was fully costed, and it forms part of the Budget figures. It is the hon. Gentleman's party that needs to find an answer to the question when he goes to the public in an election period with a programme that is £10 billion adrift, and adds a number of decisions made as a result of voting on the Budget.
Well, I am sure we will return to it in future debates. Perhaps, Sir Michael, I should speak more narrowly.
The reformed regime is complemented by a focused capital gains tax relief for entrepreneurs, introduced in clause 7 and schedule 3, which we shall debate in detail in Committee. In progressing the capital gains tax reform programme, the Government have been guided by three key principles. First, we are determined to deliver a significantly simpler tax regime. There is no doubt that capital gains tax legislation had become one of the most complex parts of the tax code, and there are genuine benefits in sweeping much of that complexity away.
Secondly, the Government have maintained a fair and competitive capital gains tax regime. A generous tax-free annual exempt amount will continue to keep the vast majority of individuals out of the capital gains tax net. For those with larger capital gains, it is right and fair that they should make a contribution to the public finances, and for that minority, the new 18 per cent. rate remains internationally competitive. Finally, the Government remain particularly committed to supporting businesses and promoting enterprise. We recognise the contribution to the economy and to society that our entrepreneurs make, and have introduced a new capital gains tax relief focused closely on that group. We have also retained a number of targeted tax incentives, including the enterprise investment scheme and venture capital trusts.
On the general point that has emerged from the debate about the process and the way in which business was engaged and consulted, will the Financial Secretary address the uncertainty in investors' minds? They do not know whether the Government are going to spring something else on them in the next pre-Budget report which, in fact, is a decision that is to be implemented. Will she reassure us that the Government are going to return to the notion that the Budget system should be about opening consultation wherever possible, not springing surprises on business? If we are to encourage investment, we need certainty and understanding of where the Government are going.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and I know that those concerns have been expressed. I hope to be able to respond to them in a few moments, if he will allow me, but first I should like to develop my response to the overall debate in a more structured way.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge said that simplification was a good and valuable thing, but that it should not be undertaken at all costs. May I tell the House that the reforms will replace—and this bears repeating—a significant amount of structural complexity built up over many years with a simple system based on a single headline rate and focused relief for entrepreneurs? That is a change well worth having. Entrepreneurs' relief has been targeted to deliver a special 10 per cent. rate for business and enterprise, which is essentially what businesses have asked for. Indeed, when the pre-Budget report was published, stockbrokers Killik and Co. was quoted in the Daily Mail of
"This has to be a positive move for investors. It will lead to many choosing to sell investments when it's right to do so rather than holding on to investments in order to avoid a penal 40 per cent. tax."
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to quote one or two comments that are entirely independent of the Government? The Financial Times editorial on
"The Chancellor said specifically today that he wanted to help small businesses facing big tax rises from April and that is very good news indeed."
Of course Killik and Co. is in favour of reducing the tax paid by passive investors in the shares of large companies quoted on the London stock exchange. What the Chancellor has created is a regime where those who invest passively in the relatively safe shares of large companies will be treated in the same way as those who get up early in the morning, who work and take risk over a lifetime to build up a substantial business. The Government have ended the differentiation in favour of risk taking and enterprise in this economy.
The hon. Gentleman and I will have to agree to disagree on that point. I clearly do not accept his description.
Mr. Browne suggested that capital gains tax should be taxed at income tax rates, but there is a clear view that 18 per cent. strikes the right balance. The Government's strong view is that that 18 per cent. rate rewards investment and enterprise, which is important for the economy. It ensures that people with gains above the tax-free allowance of around £9,600 contribute to the public purse and it remains internationally competitive.
The proposals for capital gains tax reform have been controversial. We do not generally consult on changes to tax rates, but wide-ranging discussions with interested parties took place after the pre-Budget report, and the entrepreneurs' relief announced in January was our direct response to the concerns that were raised. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs have engaged in discussions with tax experts on the technical detail and issued draft legislation for comment ahead of Finance Bill publication. The entrepreneurs' relief directly responds to the concerns raised by business groups and it should receive a warm welcome in the House.
The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge said that this was the wrong time to be increasing business tax, and that case was advanced in the previous debate. However, the new entrepreneurs' relief continues to deliver targeted support for business. The change will deliver a massively simpler system that will benefit everyone. The hon. Member for Taunton said that the entrepreneurs' relief makes matters more complex, but again, I do not agree. The reform will replace a significant amount of structural complexity, which is a change well worth having. It will provide a simple system, based on a single headline rate and a focused relief for entrepreneurs. The relief has been carefully targeted to deliver a special 10 per cent. rate for business and enterprise, which, as I said, is essentially what business has been asking for.
Overall, the changes introduced by the Bill represent a major and welcome simplification of the capital gains tax regime. The hon. Members for Dundee, East and for Runnymede and Weybridge pressed the matter of entrepreneurs' relief, saying that it was not good enough and it was a small concession, and they referred to the loss of confidence in the UK as a business environment, but entrepreneurs' relief will deliver a 10 per cent. CGT rate for the vast majority of small business owners and material investors. That is a tax saving of up to £80,000 each.
Overall, the UK continues to be an excellent place in which to do business, as was said earlier. For example, the relative cost of starting a new business is now equal to that in the US and lower than in France and Germany, and that is why, as my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary reminded me earlier, 700,000 new businesses have started up in recent times. The overall changes that we are making are not only good, but welcome to businesses.
Does the Financial Secretary recognise that the problem faced by the UK is not the number of start-up businesses—that is holding up pretty well—but the number of businesses that reach the critical level of a £1 million turnover within three years? That number has fallen, so more lifestyle-type businesses are starting up, but fewer of them are growing to become scalable businesses that will create the jobs, wealth and prosperity that the economy needs.
Again, that is precisely what the investment allowance is about. These are all matters that we must keep under review. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his acknowledgment that the start-up figure is holding up and is good news.
Amendment No. 8 seeks to delay the implementation of clause 6 pending a Treasury report on how capital gains tax reform will affect businesses seeking investment, investors who normally pay tax via capital gains tax, and the availability and cost of houses to buy and rent. It is unnecessary, and worse still, by abandoning the
The Financial Secretary says that advance notice was given in order for people to put their affairs in order, but it was given only because of the hue and cry after the initial announcement last autumn. We then had the situation through February and March where accountants and other financial advisers were pulling their hair out because there was a lack of clarity as to what was meant, and people were pushed into selling businesses or disposing of shares, or were not sure whether to hold them. I will not buy the "This will throw the whole system into chaos" argument, because it will not. If the amendment were passed, it would allow the Treasury to do precisely what it says, which is to prepare a detailed assessment of the real impact of the real changes, so that people could take informed decisions in the future.
I did not think for one moment that the hon. Gentleman would buy the argument, but I am confident that Government Members will accept the case and support the changes that we propose. We have listened to the concerns that were raised by business groups following the announcement. On the issues around property investments, it is important to remember that capital gains tax is just one of many factors that influence people's decisions about when to buy and sell. More importantly, the Government have taken a number of steps, both through the tax system and more broadly, to promote housing supply and improve affordability for first-time buyers.
The hon. Members for Runnymede and Weybridge and for Taunton asked about the save-as-you-earn plan, and suggested that it might be unfair. Our figures show that the average amount of gain that a typical employee makes from save-as-you-earn options is well under the annual exempt amount of £9,600 a year, but I have no doubt that we will return to that point in Committee.
Mr. Newmark made an entertaining and interesting contribution. I have been trying to read his lapel badges from a distance, and I now know what they say. In 1992—hon. Members will remember that that was the year when the Labour party failed to get into government—I remember wearing a badge saying "Don't blame me, I voted Labour", but the wearing of lapel badges is a practice that I am happy to have grown out of.
The hon. Gentleman brought several serious points to the debate, particularly with regard to how capital gains tax reform might hit small business. Entrepreneurs' relief will deliver a 10 per cent. capital gains tax rate for the vast majority of small business owners and material investors, and overall the UK continues to be an excellent place in which to do business. He asked how another 28 pages of CGT legislation could possibly constitute simplification, but it is what they do that will provide the simplification. They will sweep away layers of complex rules built up over many decades, and the legislation as drafted is necessary to ensure that the various changes are made and followed through correctly. The end result will be a substantially simpler regime.
The hon. Member for Taunton asked whether the 18 per cent. CGT would lead to all sorts of avoidance. As he will be aware, there are already numerous rules in the tax code to prevent individuals from disguising income as capital gains for tax purposes. The Government have a clear track record of blocking tax avoidance if it arises, and they are consulting on options to strengthen the anti-avoidance machinery in respect of that issue.
I have been interested to read the criticism that the tax code is getting ever longer. In truth, a lot of that has resulted from the tax law rewrite work, which has introduced simplification and clarity. It has also resulted in greater explanation within the code, which is therefore longer. The language is simpler, but reading it takes longer. The hon. Gentleman's criticisms are not worth taking seriously.
We will probably return to the issue several times in Committee. I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman is saying; we are introducing serious and welcome simplifications.
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the changes discourage long-term investment. When concerns are raised, it is always sensible to listen to them, but I say to him that the Government's success in delivering macro-economic stability has created the conditions in which individuals can plan for the long term. The reformed CGT regime removes distortions and will be more sustainable and straightforward for taxpayers and help everyone to plan for the future. The new entrepreneurs relief is targeted to reward business owners and material investors, who have worked hard to grow their businesses.
I reiterate the importance of certainty for businesses and investors. I am well aware that there are differing points of view on the merits of capital gains tax reform, but I hope that all parties will recognise that the uncertainty that would result from the abandoning of the
I thank the Financial Secretary for her consideration of our amendment. Early in her reply, she said that our party, which is governing in Scotland, and Plaid Cymru, which is jointly governing in Wales, needed to take responsible decisions. I thank her for pre-empting the day when we take decisions on these very matters in Scotland and Wales.
The amendment is not irresponsible. It does not offer up a cost and it does not add confusion or uncertainty. We have had the uncertainty since the decision announced last autumn. The amendment seeks clarity.
I turn to some of the points made by Mr. Hammond, who was sensible on this issue. He said that the Government's measure was a home-grown own goal, which it is; he said that the Government had sacrificed business to short-term political advantage, and they have; and he said that we needed a properly thought out package of capital gains tax, and we do. He criticised the Financial Secretary for the Government's bringing forward of their CGT changes with no advance warning or discussion, and I agree entirely. He went on to say that schedules 2 and 3 will need detailed scrutiny upstairs in Committee, and I can hardly contain myself in anticipation of the glorious hours when we will do just that.
The hon. Gentleman said that the amendment might still allow elements of schedule 2 to be proceeded with. I am sure that he will agree—in fact, I am also sure that the Financial Secretary would—that schedules 2 and 3 are opaque, long and impenetrable. Without the assistance of the civil servants or advisers that other parties have, I am unable to go into as much detail as I would have wanted to on schedule 2. However, I have presented a principled amendment that seeks the clarity that the Government have failed to provide so far. I wish to press amendment No. 8 to a Division.