Having engaged in a helpful and thorough debate on amendment 1, relating to the main rate of corporation tax, we must now deal with the small companies rate. Amendment 2, tabled by me and by two of my hon. Friends, seeks to reduce the headline rate from 21 per cent. to 20 per cent., while amendment 3 seeks to change the fraction from 7/400 to 1/50. I shall say more about amendment 3 a little later. Many of the points made during our debate on amendment 1 about the unpredictability, complexity and uncertainty of the corporation tax system apply to small companies as well, but in the case of small companies there is a more pressing issue.
There is a little bit of history attached to amendment 2. There has been a long-running debate in Government about the taxation of small companies, and about what tax rate has been appropriate. When I first served on a Finance Bill Committee as a Back Bencher in 2002, the then Chancellor—now Prime Minister—had proposed a zero per cent. corporation tax rate on profits of less than £10,000. What the Government said at the time suggested that they saw the proposed rate as a spur to enterprise which would reinvigorate British business, but that rested on a key assumption which was misplaced then and which, in a sense, has led to some of our present problems: the assumption that only companies were entrepreneurial. That assumption ignored the contribution that can be made by partnerships and other unincorporated businesses to the dynamism of the British economy.
The flaw in the Government's proposal was that it did not merely overlook the fact that other types of business organisation could be equally dynamic, but triggered a behavioural change. A raft of unincorporated businesses became limited companies, because a gap had opened up between the rates of tax that would be paid by, say, a plumber, depending on whether he was employed, self-employed or a limited company. I believe that it was adequately flagged up at the time that that would happen.
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