Clause 5 — Power to repeal high income excess relief charge

Bill Presented — Superannuation Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 15th July 2010.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury) 2:30 pm, 15th July 2010

I beg to move amendment 60, page 3, line 9, at end add-

'(4) An order under this section may only be made once the Treasury has published a report, including-

(a) the outline for the proposed replacement arrangement for the provisions contained in Schedule 2 to the Finance Act 2010;

(b) a distributional analysis showing the likely impact of the proposed replacement arrangement; and

(c) the revenue implications of the proposed replacement arrangement.'.

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The Chairman:

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The amendment seeks to delay the making of any order under clause 5 until the Treasury has published a report that outlines the proposed replacement for the provisions in section 23 of, and schedule 2 to, the Finance Act 2010, a distributional analysis of the impact of the proposed arrangement and the revenue implications of the replacement provisions themselves. Clause 5 creates a power to remove the paving legislation that would have enabled the so-called high income excess relief charge to be levied in time to be collected in April 2011. That was legislated for in section 23 of, and schedule 2 to, what I suppose we must now call the first Finance Act of 2010, given that we look to be on course to pass three of them this year. I never thought that I would be comparing Finance Acts to buses-none come along for ages and then three come along at once-but it looks like 2010 is going to demonstrate the similarity. We are only in the middle of discussing Finance Bill issues in this Session, and obviously we will resume with part two later in the year.

However, back to the provisions before us. The original legislation, which was passed by the previous, Labour Government, was announced in the 2009 Budget and slightly extended in scope in the 2009 pre-Budget report. The idea was to have restricted tax relief on pension contributions for those earning £150,000 or over, who are the top 2% of earners in the country. The policy would have tapered that relief as earnings rose, so that by the time earnings were at £180,000, the relief on pension savings would be the same as that for a basic rate taxpayer, which is currently 20%. The measure was scored in the 2009 pre-Budget report as creating a total yield of £3.6 billion in 2012-13. It was calculated that it would affect 300,000 people at the very top of the income scale, leaving 98% of taxpayers unaffected.

In order to understand the effect of changes to pension tax relief, we need to understand how it has developed and how it is distributed. I propose to spend a little time outlining that, so that we can explore the precise effect of clause 5 as drafted, which completely takes away the previous policy. The tax relief available on pension saving in the UK is generous. As many hon. Members will know, it was originally introduced to support people seeking to produce an income for their retirement, in the recognition that these people are locking away resources in an inflexible way, which is obviously what pensions do. People cannot easily access those resources earlier than the retirement age, which is usually not for many years.

The tax treatment allows tax-free saving and tax-free investment growth, as well as the taking of a tax-free lump sum on retirement of up to 25% of the fund. There are also valuable tax incentives for employer contributions to pension saving, which is a recognition-long supported by Members in all parts of the House-that it is more efficient for pensions to be provided on a collective rather than an individual basis. The favourable tax treatment is also a recognition in wider society that pension saving involves a deferral of current income, which is always difficult to maintain in what is a consumer-oriented society, where all the temptations tend towards instant rather than delayed gratification.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

My hon. Friend responds to my mention of instant gratification, but obviously it is in all our interests as a society to recognise that there is merit in assisting people to save for their retirement, so that they can avoid being reliant on benefits in their old age. As a result of the welcome increases in longevity, which have been a feature of our success as a society since the war, the average period of retirement is becoming longer and longer. Indeed, history recalls that when old-age pensions were first created 100 years ago, the life expectancy of those due to access them was a mere one year after they had been lucky enough to qualify. Clearly, by the time pension saving and old-age pensions became more widespread after the second world war, the time had gone up considerably to seven or eight years. It is now 20-odd years for men and-gratifyingly for females-even longer for women.

That shows that there are issues about longevity in society and about how to adapt our pensions arrangements to recognise that we live in what is often referred to as "an ageing society". I believe that it is a great triumph of our organisation of society. Although it presents us with some difficult issues of policy and affordability, it should not be seen or ever portrayed as a problem; nor should the fact that these days many more pensioners reach retirement age and live longer be seen as representing some kind of burden on our society. After all, we all aspire-as I am sure you do, Mr Hoyle-to reaching retirement age and enjoying an extremely happy, long and hopefully prosperous retirement. That is what we are dealing with when we tackle the issue of pension tax relief.

I was pointing out that pension tax relief is more generous than the relief in many other areas of saving. That is because there are great benefits in encouraging people to save for their own pension, despite the fact that they are putting money away to which they often cannot gain access for many years; and also because it is more effectively and efficiently done if it can be done collectively. That is why Government incentives, in the form of tax reliefs, have always featured in the system.

This form of tax relief is often referred to as EET. This is not a stuttering, Steven Spielberg sci-fi film; it stands for exempt, exempt, taxed. That means that as savings are put away from income, they are exempt from tax. Any investment growth that comes from investment in those funds is also exempt from tax-that is the second E. The T, of course, is the thing that many people worry about-the fact that as these savings are taken as an income stream when retirement happens, taxation applies again at that stage.

I doubt whether any Member on either side of the House would quibble with the very generous tax incentives put in place over many years by Governments of all hues, colours and sorts-whether they be coalitions or otherwise-to privilege such tax savings. However, as that has developed, certain features have brought about unforeseen consequences and have not proved to be in the best interests of fairness or equity.

To establish the size of the issue and to put into perspective the amounts of money that we are dealing with under this clause, let me reveal-although I am sure that many Members will already know-that the gross annual cost of pension tax relief for the financial year 2008-09 was £28.4 billion, which at a full 2% of gross domestic product is a not insubstantial amount. Net of the tax on pension income-the T part of EET-and also of the national insurance contribution relief for employers, which are also granted by the Treasury, the figure was £18.9 billion. Therefore, the net cost of that tax relief for pension savings is close to £19 billion. Again, that is not an insubstantial amount of money or revenue forgone by the Treasury.

Another feature of the net figure is how it has been growing in the past few years, having doubled since 1998-99. From being reasonably stable, it has gone up very quickly in a relatively short space of time when we think about life spans and the development of pensions policy in this area. That change has been accompanied by a change in the distribution of the beneficiaries of the tax relief, so there was a very strong case for taking action to put it on a more sustainable and fairer footing, and that is what we were doing with the tax law that clause 5 seeks to repeal by order.

It is a feature of the system, which I am not sure could be avoided without putting huge restrictions on it, that tax relief for pension savings is granted at a marginal rate. By definition, that means that it is more valuable for higher rate taxpayers than for basic rate taxpayers. Analysis has shown that the relief was increasingly benefiting those on the very highest incomes rather than just those on higher rates. So, paradoxically, over time, the very reasonable and logical policy of granting tax exemptions on savings for pensions meant that the incentive to save for a pension was being provided, at a cost to all taxpayers, to those who needed it the least because they were the most well-off. That is the definition of "regressive" in terms of how tax relief might hit. The fact that the system was becoming even more distorted, benefiting those in the very top income brackets, was illustrated by a distributional analysis of the benefits, which revealed that higher rate taxpayers received 65% of the relief but constituted only 19% of pensions savers.

The real distortions were at the very, very top, as those on the very highest incomes were benefiting even more disproportionately. Analysis shows that about 2% of savers currently receive a quarter-25%-of all the tax relief available. I hope that the Minister will agree that that is unjustifiable. It means that if a person is privileged enough to be in the top 2% of earners by income, they are entitled to an average of £20,000 of tax relief per year per person on their pension savings, whereas the average relief available for those who are on the basic rate of tax is just £1,000.

The way in which the relief is granted, its connection to the income tax system-the fact that it is at the marginal rate-and the introduction of the 50p rate for income tax mean that if action were not taken, this massively and already grossly regressive relief would become even more distorted. That is why my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor, in the pre-Budget report 2009 and the Budget 2009, decided that action had to be taken to deal with the relief, which had become unsustainable and extremely unfair. It was therefore necessary to have a policy response at the medium and low-earning end of the income scale as well as a policy for the very high end. It is the policy for the very high end that is being repealed in clause 5, but I want to spend a tiny amount of time dealing with the policy at the low and medium end.

The decision to create the national employment savings trust was an essential part of the rebalancing of pension tax reliefs to ensure that they could effectively stretch further down the income distribution. Members will recall that the creation of what is now known as NEST was the outcome of a great deal of work across party lines from 2004 to design a system of pension savings that would deal with the obvious market failure in the private sector of the ability to allow low and medium earners to save in a worthwhile way in a low-cost savings vehicle.

NEST was first brought into the structure of pension savings as a result of the work of the Turner commission. The commission sat for two years and produced huge reports. Anyone who wishes to inform themselves about the policy issues surrounding the thorny problems of increased longevity and the ageing of our society, and their implications for our policy approach as an advanced, sophisticated and modern welfare state, should read the evidence and pronouncements of the Turner commission. It is the best available analysis and narrative of those complex issues. It led to two pieces of pension legislation: the Pensions Acts of 2007 and 2008. They put in place a structure that will create automatic enrolment for people, a compulsory employer contribution and-importantly for the subject of pensions tax relief and to this debate-a Government contribution alongside the money that individuals put into the NEST or any other pension structure through which a company chooses to make provision for its workers. This is an essential part of rebalancing the pensions tax reliefs and the extremely regressive skew that I have identified as a feature of the present system.

Automatic enrolment in the scheme is due to begin in 2012, but that is subject to a review that was announced by the new Government. Given the approach to low-cost pension saving, the fact of automatic enrolment, and the creation of a low-cost vehicle that makes saving worth while and does not eat into the savings of people on modest or low incomes through commission and costs, I hope that Members on both sides of the House will still agree that this should go forward. A great deal of work went into creating that consensus, and it is important, given that pension policy has to be developed over many years, that we maintain it across party divides, however much fun they might be at whatever time of the day or night. It is important that we keep the big picture in mind and begin to develop a coherent approach to pension savings.

My firm belief is that the creation of the low-cost vehicle, the NEST, will go ahead, and I hope that this landmark reform will ensure that, from 2012 onwards, up to 10 million people will get the chance to save into a pension with a guaranteed employer contribution and Government tax relief available for the first time ever. By definition, that will begin to reduce some of the skewed and regressive distribution of pension tax relief that is a feature of our system at the moment.

The measure will also begin to build a robust savings vehicle, which will finally guarantee the end of the current market failure that locks those on moderate earnings out of viable opportunities to save in a pension. It will also ensure that access to appropriate tax relief can be more evenly spread. There remains an issue, however, over the distorted distribution of pension tax relief towards those at the very top of the income scale. That is what section 23 and schedule 2 to the Finance Act 2010 were designed to deal with. Those provisions were specifically targeted at those on the highest incomes who had done so well in the good years. We felt it right that those people should contribute most to the fiscal consolidation that we all knew had to happen in the aftermath of the credit crunch. This was a progressive measure that began to address the distortions that had developed in the system. It also explicitly and deliberately targeted the very richest to bear most of the burden of the redistribution of pension saving tax relief. That gives the lie to the propaganda and constant refrain from Government Members that the Labour Government had no plans for a fiscal consolidation. The measure was an important part of our plan to halve the deficit over the lifetime of this Parliament.

Clause 5 creates the power to repeal by order all the paving legislation put in place by the policy approach that I have described. Page 36 of the Red Book hints at the new Government's intention to deal with this matter. It says:

"The Government will continue with plans it inherited to raise revenues from restricting pensions tax relief."

So that much we can certainly welcome, and even agree on. The Red Book continues:

"The Government is committed to protecting the public finances by introducing reforms that raise no less revenue than existing plans."

That amount, as I have already explained, is £3.6 billion by 2012-13. The yield is likely to be maintained at that level or even go higher in the future. From the scoring that we did in government, it had a slow start in the first year-£0.2 billion-while the system was put into place, and went up to £3.5 billion and would remain at that kind of level, but get gradually higher in the future. The Red Book does not feature any scorecard implications, I assume because the Government have said that they will be replacing our yield like for like. They have not predicted what the yield for its replacement policy, whatever that might be, will amount to. One would have thought that it would be at least maintained at £3.6 billion and probably go higher over time.

The sum of £3.6 billion is a significant amount of money to get in by 2012-13. The Red Book goes on to hint at, but gives no firm details of, the approach that might be in the Government's mind as a replacement for the scheme for which we legislated. That approach, according to paragraph 1.118 on page 36 of the Red Book, is to guarantee the same yield by substantial reductions in the annual allowance. The ballpark area that it mentions for those reductions is between £30,000 and £45,000. That is a significant reduction from the current allowance, which is £225,000. No mention is made of the lifetime allowance. The Minister will be aware that there is the annual allowance but also the lifetime allowance for pension savings. I would be extremely interested in any observations that she may have on the Government's attitude to the lifetime allowance. Is it to be kept the same, increased, or perhaps indexed in a different way to the one that we established?

The lifetime allowance is certainly an important part of any debate about these matters, yet the Government have gone all coy about it. They have mentioned a potential range for huge reductions in the annual allowance, but they have not been forthcoming about their plans to replace the high-income excess relief charges, which we legislated for in paragraph 23 of schedule 2 to the Finance Act 2010. The Government are not at all forthcoming about the lifetime allowance, which is why the amendment is trying to get a bit more information out of them.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West 3:00 pm, 15th July 2010

In terms of the public finances, £3.6 billion is a massive amount to be raised in a very tight period, so given that there is so much uncertainty and change around the Government's proposals, does my hon. Friend accept that they present an enormous risk? From the viewpoint of the industry, it appears that the Government are playing fast and loose and are undermining the confidence of the financial markets and credit rating organisations in their capability to manage our economy or their finances.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point and I obviously look forward to the contribution that he will make to our debate in due course. If he looks at the amendment he will see that the point of it is to try to get more detail about what is in the Government's mind. The time scale for putting the provisions in place is extremely short in relation to the beginning of the new financial year-a point to which I shall return.

The amendment would provide that an order that completely repealed all the paving legislation and all the work to put into effect the higher earnings charge would not be allowed until Parliament has more idea of at least the outline for the proposed replacement arrangements. There are some coy little hints in the Red Book but not much else to go on-certainly no detail-if we are to repeal an already organised charge that has been well consulted on. The amendment also provides for a distributional analysis to show

"the likely impact of the proposed replacement arrangement; and...the revenue implications of the proposed replacement arrangement."

I accept that the Government have said that they want to replicate the yield, but as my hon. Friend correctly pointed out, the yield is not an insubstantial amount and it rises quickly. In the tax year 2012-13, a yield of fully £3.6 billion for the replacement measure is already on the Budget scorecard.

The planned yield is a considerable sum and the Government need to reassure us that they are not putting it at risk by ripping up all the work that has been done to implement the original policy since it was announced in 2009. There are clear dangers in destroying all that work, wiping it off the statute book and starting again from scratch so close to when the change is meant to come in, not least because of the tight time scales as we approach the start of the financial year 2011-12, when collection of the revenue is meant to begin. The Red Book states:

"The Government wishes to engage employers, pension schemes, experts and other interested parties to determine the best design of a regime."

That does not fill me with confidence that the Government have the first clue about how their policy intent can be changed into an actual tax change. It is a complex area and they have only a small period to get the measure right.

I assume that the powers will have to be legislated for in the September Finance Bill; perhaps the Economic Secretary can tell me when she replies to the debate. There is not much time-probably only the summer-so I hope she will have a holiday, but I am not sure quite how that will turn out if she is put in charge of sorting out the proposals in an appropriate time. Her officials could get no break at all. To be honest, as they contemplate their second or third Finance Bill of the year, her officials will probably need a break as much as she does. While there is not a lot of time left, there is an awful lot of yield at stake if the Government get this wrong, and that is what we are exploring through amendment 60.

Parliament deserves a much firmer idea of what is in the Government's mind before it jettisons a well-prepared and well-signalled change that has already involved a good deal of consultation, design, and stakeholder and legislative work. The tax regime to collect the suitably named high income excess relief charge is to be abolished although it has already been consulted on and legislated for. There have also been impact assessments, stakeholder engagement and consultation documents, so all people concerned have prepared for the regime.

I am the first to admit that the charge was not universally welcomed or accepted, especially by those who would have to pay it. Many self-interested and somewhat bloodcurdling arguments were advanced about how trying to distribute the relief more fairly would destroy all pension provision in the UK because it was suggested that those who previously received a completely disproportionate amount of relief would close their employee pension provision out of spite if some of that relief was taken away. It was not surprising that there were howls of outrage from certain quarters when the policy was announced, but it is impossible to justify a system of tax relief that delivers a quarter of its £18.9 billion to just the 300,000 richest people by income in the country.

Unfortunately, it seems that that lobbying effort has paid off under a new Government. The throwaway comment in the Red Book that the policy would

"damage UK business and competitiveness" is quite worrying because that is usually code for "would hit the very well-off the most". The Government have obviously listened to those with well-oiled lobbying machines who, after all the years of largesse during which the vast majority of the pension tax relief came to them, did not want the party to end.

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Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife 3:15 pm, 15th July 2010

My hon. Friend is probably aware of many people's anger at the size of the pension pots of bankers such as Sir Fred Goodwin. Does she agree that when many people are struggling as a result of the bankers' decisions, it is outrageous that the Government wish to reward those very bankers by giving them such big pension breaks?

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I certainly understand that anger, and I suspect that there will be even more anger if the Government do not address the unfair way in which the distribution of the pension tax relief has developed, especially since the simplification from A-day in 2006. We tried to address the problem by targeting the people at the very top who had benefited the most from the relief in particular.

We received representations from stakeholders who called for a simpler system, and it would be wrong of me to try to claim that the system for which we legislated was simple-it was clearly complex. However, when dealing with people on very high earnings who use complex financial arrangements, we often find that that complexity must be matched to ensure that a fair amount of tax is taken from them. In tax and benefit law, as the Economic Secretary will know-she probably struggles with this every day-there is always a trade-off between simplification and fairness, as well as yield. We took the view that despite the complexities of the system that we were introducing, it was right to target very high earners in particular. I state the distributional analysis again: the top 300,000 people receive 25% of £18.9 billion. No right-thinking person in this country with any kind of understanding of what the term "fairness" means would want us to tolerate that kind of distribution.

Simplification is always a popular cry, but there are trade-offs, and it causes different problems if we create a simpler system. We did consider other options, but the trade-offs are inescapable. We want to explore in debate today how the Government are working their way through the trade-offs, so that we can try to assess whether the solution that the Government have hinted at, but have not put before us, is fair, or whether its outcome is less fair than the outcome of the system that we decided on.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I can see that the hon. Lady and other Opposition Members are following a particular train of inquiry, and that is perfectly right-it is the purpose of this debate. I just draw her attention to the fact that the clause gives the Government the power to repeal the previous measures if we can find a better alternative. If we cannot, I assure her that we will leave what is in place. However, does she agree with the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which described the measures that the previous Government proposed as unfair?

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It is up to the entire electorate to decide what is fair or unfair. I have set out some of the reasons why we approached what is a difficult problem in the way that we did, but I certainly welcome the Minister's comment that if the Government cannot find a different way of doing things, they will leave the current structure in place. I was wondering about the reference in the clause to December this year. I suspected that that might be what we would call a backstop position. It is important that the hon. Lady has put her point on the record. Taking what she says at face value, I assume that the Government will do some work in the next period. I do not know whether a measure will be in the Finance Bill, or how quickly that work will be done, but certainly there is not very much time for a completely new system to be brought in.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The hon. Lady may wish to deal with some of the points in her reply on the amendment, but I am more than happy to give way if she wants to intervene.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Lady is very kind. Given that she raises the issue, perhaps it would be helpful for the rest of the debate if I set matters out. On the timelines, she is right; we clearly need to make progress quickly. The aim is to publish draft clauses in the autumn, and to legislate in the Finance Bill 2011.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I certainly appreciate the information that the Minister has put before us, and it helps us to get on with the debate. I suppose it means that she and her officials will have time for at least a little bit of a holiday this August. Under our plans, the yield begins to come in during the next financial year. I was under the impression that she would have had to ensure that she legislated for an entirely new system in the September 2010 Finance Bill. She now tells us that potential measures for an alternative system will be forced into next year's Finance Bill, which means that an extra £0.2 billion of revenue that was scored for the next financial year will have to be raised. I assume that she will take account of that.

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Photo of Jon Trickett Jon Trickett Labour, Hemsworth

The new regime comes in in April 2011. If, as the Minister said, the Government will not bring legislation forward until April 2011, does it mean that we will use the system that we introduced? That will be a second system. There is the current system; the one that we introduced, which will apply from April 2011; and a third one, which will be introduced subsequent to the Government's Bill. Or will the Government abandon our system, and will there be a period of time in which we get less revenue as a result of the complex process that has just been announced?

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

There are issues of process on which I would appreciate the hon. Lady's enlightenment in her response to the debate.

There is also an issue about the backstop position. The hon. Lady says that draft clauses might be brought forward, and, although I am sorry to go on about process, it is important when it comes to tax changes. We gave ourselves close to two years to do all the work to introduce the higher rate relief charge, because it was such a difficult and complex area. We wanted to ensure that those who were liable to pay had plenty of time to plan, understand their liabilities-even if they did not like them, which they rarely do in my experience-and get to know the system, so that there was certainty about it. It now seems clear that there is a degree of uncertainty, which those who would have been particularly badly hit by the high charges, the very richest in our society, might welcome. However, we felt that they should shoulder a fairer burden of the necessary fiscal consolidation, because they had done so well during the good times.

If the Government are serious about protecting the yield, there has to be a trade-off with fairness. The Government have hinted at using the annual allowances as a way of raising that money, rather than our way, and if they introduce that change those on incomes of less than £130,000 will be dragged into the tax net. We wished to avoid that with our solution, so, if the reduction in annual allowances that the Government are considering turns out to be their final decision, in response to the debate will the hon. Lady tell us how many people it will affect? The Government have hinted that that is their preferred way, but our amendment would ensure a distributional analysis of the measure's effect. Given that we legislated for a particular approach to raising that yield, and given that the Treasury did a great deal of work on developing that system, it would be entirely appropriate for the Treasury to produce some comparisons between that and the preferred approach at which the hon. Lady and, certainly, the Red Book have hinted. How great will the sudden tax liability be of people who earned less than £130,000 a year and would not have been affected had our approach to raising the yield gone ahead? How low down the income scale will the restrictions on tax relief go?

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

For clarity, does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's proposal consists of a multi-billion-pound giveaway for the richest 2% of people in this country at a time when the rest of the country faces massive financial penalties due to the actions of international bankers? Those very bankers will be given the extra bonus by this Government, and that is an absolute disgrace.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Again, my hon. Friend makes an important point in his characteristically acerbic way. I was going to ask the Minister, in a slightly more polite way, how much of the income that the very richest would have paid will now be paid, under the new plans, by those on lower incomes. I hope she can give us that figure.

The key issue with annual investment allowances is that they drag people into paying the extra tax regardless of income. For example, a modest earner might receive a bequest from a deceased relative and make a big payment into a pension, and under our system they would have been able to pay in up to £225,000 without incurring tax. Alternatively, a modest earner might receive a redundancy payment and wish to put it away, and we clearly want to encourage that if they do not have a pension. If the hon. Lady's system is to be of the sort hinted at in the Red Book, that person would be much more affected, regardless of their ordinary income; they would be deterred from putting anything other than the annual investment allowance into a pension fund because of the nature of the tax. I hope she will at least admit that that is an implication. Has she any numbers that relate to this issue?

It is important that we should be able to compare the two systems. That is why the amendment calls for a distributional analysis to be laid before the House before the paving legislation is repealed by order. It calls for the Government to give the House more than a few vague hints about the shape of the new regime that they are planning to introduce.

Reading between the lines, it appears that the Government have chosen to pay a price for increased simplicity. That price appears to be that to reduce the tax burden on the very richest, those on lower-but still good-incomes will be hit. Once more, we see a Government choice that protects the very richest at the expense of those who are not as well off. The Liberal Democrat manifesto identified this regressive tax relief and pledged to restrict it completely to the basic rate. Somehow, through the mysterious and convenient process involved in the so-called coalition agreement, that manifesto pledge has been translated into saving the very richest-perhaps even bankers, as has been said-from large tax burdens and paying for that by clobbering those below them in the income distribution. That definition of "progressive" is even more peculiar than that applied to the VAT rise.

Will the Minister deal with a couple of other questions? There is only a short time before the new financial year. She has said that it is now anticipated that the measure will not be introduced until the Finance Act 2011. How will she protect the £3.6 billion yield, given that that will come in a year earlier? How will we avoid a situation in which the order has to be made before December this year? The new system will not be legislated for and might not even be designed. Surely there will be a space in which the £3.6 billion yield will be at risk, and there will be no approach to ensuring that we can maintain it.

Will the Minister also assure the House that the new regime will be put before us properly and in detail? Will there be consultations, especially with those lower down the income scale, who, it would appear, will now be affected by the changes? Will she also tell us what is happening to the anti-forestalling legislation, which is not repealed by the clause? Will the new regime put the burden of compliance on HMRC rather than on pension providers, which bore the brunt of the approach that we took on this issue? At a time when the Chancellor is boasting of very large cuts in departmental budgets, does the hon. Lady feel that HMRC can cope with the extra burdens that this very sudden, very late, policy change will impose on it?

Finally, what will happen if it all goes wrong? The Minister has hinted that if the Government feel that they cannot intellectually work something out between now and December this year to replace the yield, they will maintain the current system. My experience is that one can have an intellectually coherent approach to a tax change that looks fantastic on paper until one tries to turn it into actual approaches. That stage might well come after the stage that her new policy is able to reach by December this year.

What is the plan B if it all goes wrong? We spent nearly two years ensuring that we could turn our approach into a reality that worked, even though it was not popular among those who were going to have to pay it. The hon. Lady does not have that amount of time. Will she reassure us that the whole thing will not collapse in a heap? I look forward to her response on that point.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Veterans) 3:30 pm, 15th July 2010

Over the past few weeks since the coalition came into being and the announcement of the Budget, the rhetoric that we have heard has been all about fairness. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have said on many occasions, "We're all in this together." The other phrase is, "There's no alternative." We have heard the accusation that the previous Labour Government did not have a deficit reduction strategy. Well, this element was a key part of that-£3.6 billion of it.

I am quite sad that only one Government Back Bencher is in the Chamber, and I notice that the Liberal Democrats have not been here throughout this debate. During the election, we heard nothing about the VAT rises, but we also heard nothing about the fact that one of the things that the Government would do in their first Finance Bill would be to give a £3.6 billion tax give-away to the richest 2% of pensioners. I am sure that that would have gone down very badly with the electorate if the Government parties had been honest with us at that time. During the past week, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, in their great coalition together, have been arguing that VAT is not regressive, although a key exception is Andrew George, who has found this policy very difficult. However, one cannot say that the measure we are debating is progressive at all.

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Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the amendment, which would require a distributional analysis of any changes, were accepted, we would be in a position to make a judgment on whether a system that is complicated, as the shadow spokesman said, was at least being replaced with a system that was fair and did not, as the hon. Gentleman says, give a huge amount of money to the very richest people?

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Veterans)

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. There seems to have been confusion from the Minister in the sense that she is saying, "Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more"-in other words, that the Government might not actually introduce this measure. If this change is to be made, we need to know who it will affect lower down the income chain. If the top 2% are not going to carry their share of the burden, people lower down the tax scale will be affected, such as pensioners, who are already being hit by VAT and other implications of this Budget.

This proposal affects 300,000 people-2% of pension savers and 1% of working age taxpayers. We are being told that it is fair, just and progressive to abolish what was put forward by the previous Labour Government, which would have raised £3.6 billion to help to reduce the deficit that was created because of the lending we had to provide following the economic crisis. I am sorry, but I do not accept that that is fair, and I think that if this were explained to most members of the public, they would agree. Currently, no one who earned under £130,000 a year would be affected by this measure. If someone is in a Cabinet packed full of millionaires, that perhaps skews their perspective on what poverty is and what income buys. However, the average member of the public, certainly in North Durham, would be appalled by the fact that we are going to let off people who are earning what is not just a good wage but, for most of my constituents, a fantastic, unimaginable wage.

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Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

My hon. Friend is obviously very much in touch with the north-east of England. Would he care to speculate as to whether, among the 2% of the population who will benefit, there will be an equitable distribution across the UK, or whether the vast majority who will benefit will be located in certain parts of the country not too near his constituency or mine?

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Veterans)

My hon. Friend raises a good point. Clearly the net beneficiaries will not be in the north-east of England, Northern Ireland or Scotland. They will be those in the south-east of England. The disposable income of those individuals will be a lot greater than that of a lot of our constituents, who will be hit by the VAT increase.

We have seen that give-away, but there is something else in the Budget that I find absolutely amazing. We heard the other night that under the corporation tax proposals, the banks will be given a cash-back of £400 million. The same individuals will no doubt benefit from the proposals that we are currently discussing. We have been hearing the mantras in the past few weeks that there is no alternative and that Labour left the economy in the mess.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Veterans)

Let us not forget that one. However, the proposal in clause 5 will leave a big black hole in the deficit reduction strategy. The Economic Secretary hinted, "Well, we might not do it, or we might do something different." I am sorry, but if we are to have a thought-out plan to reduce the deficit, that is not the way to approach the matter. What we need is firm figures that do not make the poorest in society pay, which the proposal clearly will. She needs to explain to the House why neither she nor the Liberal Democrats went into the election saying that they would make this change. A lot of pensioners will find it very difficult to stomach.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Does my hon. Friend agree that neither partner in the coalition Government went into the general election telling pensioners that they would change the definition of indexation from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index, either?

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Photo of David Amess David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Order. I hope that before the hon. Gentleman responds, he will reflect on the fact that the point that has just been made is not really relevant to the matter being discussed.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Veterans)

I would not want to go against your judgment, Mr Amess, but may I say that my hon. Friend's point is another example of how hard-working pensioners in my constituency will be affected by the Budget? However, I defer to your wise counsel and would not want to get on the wrong side of you.

Distributional analysis is needed before anything is done. We also need to know, if the relief charge is not going to go ahead, where the money is going to come from. It will affect pensioners lower down the income scale. Many on quite small incomes, who have saved all their lives for their pensions, will basically be paying for a give-away to the richest 2% in the country.

I hope that we can get the message out loud and clear from today's debate that we have a Government who are clearly taking care of their friends, the top 2%. They have to start being honest with the British people-this Budget is not about deficit reduction. It is about an ideological approach to where the burden of taxation should fall and to the size of the state, and it will not help many of my constituents in North Durham.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West 3:45 pm, 15th July 2010

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr Jones, who puts his finger on one of the key points. Obviously, the previous Government were attempting to raise £3.6 billion to tackle the budget deficit. They targeted the top 2% of people-those earning more than £150,000, including employer contributions. Those people anticipated that increase and budgeted for it and now, in the ashes of the economic downturn imported from the United States, the impact of raising the £3.6 billion is being spread across a much wider pool-10% of the people.

As has already been said, the suggestion that we are all in it together rings hollow. Public sector workers are on pay freezes and the incomes from their pensions, like those from private sector pensions, will be reduced by 16% over 20 years through the other change that has been mentioned-the link to the consumer prices index. On top of all that, the tide of the £3.6 billion will break over them. The impact will be great, and I very much regret it.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Veterans)

Does my hon. Friend also agree that the 2% of taxpayers who will get the £3.6 billion cash give-away are also in a position to take tax and accountancy advice, which could reduce their tax liabilities? That will not be open to pensioners who are paying the VAT increases or the public sector workers to whom he referred.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

My hon. Friend is right. The status quo proposal of getting the £3.6 billion from the top 2% was based on standing back and considering whether there should be greater tax relief for those who are already the richest. The answer was no. At difficult times, those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden, but now, the burden is being taken from them and placed on much weaker consumers. That will undermine the attractiveness of pension schemes among larger numbers in middle income groups.

In essence, the proposal is to reduce the tax allowance from £255,000 a year to some £30,000 to £45,000. That creates an enormous difference in how many and which people are captured, and generates great anxiety in the industry-the providers that it represents and consumers whom it serves.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

May I confirm that I have understood what the hon. Gentleman prefers? Would he rather have tax relief at 20% for people who can afford to pay up to £250,000 into a pension fund in one year?

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

The Economy Secretary knows that the distributional impact of the proposals is, as I have said, to spread the £3.6 billion burden from the top 2% to 10%. It is as simple as that. She knows that that is the case, and there is no way that she can wriggle out of that political and economic fact. Before the election, there was a promise that million pound estates would avoid inheritance tax-the top 5,000 households. At the last moment, the Chancellor stepped back and said, "Oh no, at such difficult times, we won't give billions of pounds to the top few thousand households. Don't worry. Vote Tory." However, their secret plan was to have a word behind the scenes with their rich mates, telling them, "Don't worry, we'll reverse the Labour party's old plan to make sure that the top 2% pay most."

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour, Nottingham East

My hon. Friend is making several important points. The clause appears to reinstate an enormous tax relief capability for the wealthiest, yet the Economic Secretary guffaws at questions from Labour Members about taking it away. Surely the Treasury should clarify the position.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

My hon. Friend is right. Only yesterday, he lucidly pointed out that, when we went into the election campaign, the Conservatives were saying, "We won't help the rich with inheritance tax, and we'll get those bankers with the bankers levy", but that the levy of £400 million will be nullified by the corporation tax give-away to the bankers. On top of that, we hear not only that the bankers will not pay a levy because they get corporation tax back, but because of this proposal they will have the £3.6 billion in pension contributions. That is an absolute disgrace.

The Government argue that the measure is both fair and effective. I have already argued that it is clearly not fair and will not labour the point any longer, but is it effective? That the previous scheme was complex has been acknowledged, but the new system is also complex. There is enormous uncertainty within the industry, which is asking how pensions can be accrued in defined benefit schemes, how they will be valued under the proposals, and what will be the impact of the proposal on the provision of such schemes and what will be the impact on basic rate taxpayers. There are also compliance and delivery questions, and all sorts of other questions, and the measure must be delivered within a very tight time frame. We are therefore playing fast and loose with our economy and public finances, and with the confidence of the international community, in order that the Tories can bail out their rich friends. That is quite outrageous.

The Government say that the matter will not be done and dusted immediately, but that the measures give them various regulatory powers to withdraw Labour's well thought out proposals and to leave a void. Specifically, it is said that there will be a discussion document in the summer of 2010, meaning that there will be a big discussion among the stakeholders on how the Government are going to recover the £3.6 billion that they would have made from the top 2%. The Government say, "We'd better not take that £3.6 billion because we'd be taking it from our friends, but we don't know how we're going to recover it, so we'll have a stakeholder discussion in the summer," which will presumably take place in the Maldives or somewhere similar.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour, Nottingham East

Again, the Labour party was trying to close the loopholes for the very richest and to reduce some of the tax give-away for the millionaires. The Minister is asking the House to trust her while she shuffles the rules-that is what clause 5 effectively means-but does my hon. Friend think that the Government, given their track record, can be trusted on this matter?

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

I certainly do not think that the Government can be trusted but, more importantly, do the industry, consumers and the wider financial community trust them to get their ducks in a row and recover the £3.6 billion? Much was made of the Chancellor saying, "We've got to get all this money and get the deficit down, otherwise we might be re-rated," but suddenly we do not know where a key component of that-£3.6 billion-is coming from.

I mentioned that there will be a discussion group of stakeholders in the summer. The previous Labour Government considered reducing the annual allowance and all the other options. It is on the record in Hansard that the annual allowance proposal was rejected partly because it was less well targeted-as has been said, we wanted to focus on those who are able to pay most easily and without great pain rather than make the weakest pay more-and partly because of its complexity.

Another key point I wanted to make-I do not think it has been made clearly enough-is that primary legislation is necessary to reduce the annual allowance. The proposal in the Bill is half-baked. It gets rid of a system of gathering £3.6 billion and the Government are incapable of replacing it with an alternative. I object to the clause not just because of the discussion with stakeholders and the uncertainty, but specifically because section 282(2) of the Finance Act 2004 states that the annual allowance set by Treasury order must not be less than the preceding year. Given that the allowance is £255,000, it cannot suddenly become £30,000 to £45,000 without changing that legislation. Such a measure is not included in the Bill, which is another indication of how half-cocked the proposals are. We are discussing a Finance Bill now, but we would need another one before April 2011 to change that allowance. The proposal is incomplete and will mean uncertainty; it demonstrates ineptitude and incompetence; and it undermines confidence among industry providers and consumers. After all, we want more people to save with certainty, so that they have comfort rather than hardship in what we hope will be their long and happy retirements. This will undermine those prospects. People will be less likely to subscribe to sensible, robust pension schemes for the future.

The Government are giving themselves the power to repeal primary legislation by order without knowing exactly what will be put in its place. That is a half-baked approach. Amendment No. 60 calls for an analysis of "the likely impact". I tabled an amendment that was not selected, but it simply suggested that this clause should be scrapped. We have looked at the issue, and we know what the distributional impact will be, albeit not in detail. We know that the rich will be let off the hook, and more widely it will cause massive uncertainty about the future. There may also be a question mark over whether we can fulfil our financial obligations as set out in the Budget.

Towers Watson, which is a leading consultant on pensions, says that lowering the annual allowance to £30,000 would lead to tax charges for long-serving final salary scheme members. That means that employers would pull the plug on such schemes. That is not my claim, but that of industry experts. We have already seen across British industry the loss of reliable and robust final salary schemes. Towers Watson says that the changes will undermine final salary schemes because they will not be as useful in retaining staff if they have a tax bill attached. The Minister has not thought this through. If big employers have these final salary schemes, their staff stay with the company because they know that each year they gain a little more benefit, instead of going to a predatory competitor company.

Towers Watson argues that the Government can either introduce a simple system or a fair system, but not both. A rough and ready approach was fine when a few were worried about the annual allowance, but the Government's proposals would have an impact on hundreds of thousands of people. All the stakeholders will be running around wondering what the changes will mean for them and providers will wonder whether they should provide a different scheme. I mentioned KPMG before, and I will not go through all the consultants in terms of their support for my position, but KPMG says that the number of pension savers affected has widened from 2% to 10%. PricewaterhouseCoopers says that the level will need to be £30,000-as opposed to £30,000 to £45,000-to raise the £3.6 billion needed. The movement from £255,000 to £30,000 is a radical change and we are still consulting on it.

PricewaterhouseCoopers says:

"Employers need certainty over the regulatory framework for pensions if they are to be remotivated to provide quality workplace pensions."

The Government's proposals are unfair, unclear, half-baked, fast and loose and a massive new multi-million pound bankers' bonus to pay back many of the people who put us in this mess in the first place. They are disgraceful and should be withdrawn.

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Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I have only a few points to make. The Conservative party's fortunes or misfortunes do not really affect us in Northern Ireland so I am not seeking to score political points or to say that the Tories are bad people, even though they may be considered to be so by many people. However, the basic issue that hits everyone in the face in considering this measure is how it sits with the claim by the Government that the Budget is fair.

The core of my argument is this: is this a fair way of dealing with this particular issue? Perhaps the Minister can confirm whether the Government have decided that the current system is so complicated that it needs changing to such a degree that the £3.6 billion will be unrealisable. If simplicity will result in less money, we are obliged to know where that money will come from. On the other hand, if the change is intended to raise the £3.6 billion-but not in the way that it is currently raised-logic dictates that it can be raised only by distributing its collection among people who are not currently paying towards it, which means going down the income scale. That is where the issue of fairness comes in.

The first question I want answered, therefore, is whether it is the intention to raise that £3.6 billion. If so, how will it be distributed? The shadow Minister admitted that the system put in place by the previous Government was complicated-that is probably one of the things exercising Treasury Ministers at present-but if there were a simpler method, I assume that it would have been tried already, because nobody wants to put in place an unnecessarily complicated system. It might well be that something that previously escaped the people who designed the pension tax relief has suddenly appeared to them. If so, perhaps a way can be found to keep the same distribution but collect it differently. Were that the case, however, I suspect that it would have been found already.

A second issue, on which the amendment is quite clear, needs to be addressed. The Minister indicated in an intervention that the power being asked for might never be exercised, but I suspect that it is being requested because it will be exercised at some stage. If that is the case, and if the Government have nothing to fear from the amendment, in the interest of ensuring a collective and positive response to the Budget, and so that it can be seen to be fair, a clear distributional analysis, which the amendment asks for, should not be something that the Government walk away from-the amendment should be easily accepted. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether that part of the amendment will be accepted, or whether there is some fear about the Government's doing so. In our earlier debate about insurance, the Exchequer Secretary said that the amounts are so minimal that we do not need a full impact assessment, but the amount here is not minimal-it is £3.6 billion-so a distributional analysis should be called for.

The third comment I wish to make has already been made by other Members. We are going to have the current arrangements until the end of the year, then we will have the previous Government's amendments for the next year, and then we will have new arrangements for the following year. In this industry, people, including all of us as pension contributors, want some certainty about where our pensions are going, what kind of contributions we will have to make and so on. It therefore strikes me as odd that a Government who say they want to make the running of the economy more simple-by reducing red tape and bureaucracy for industry-should be having three systems in three different years. That seems to go against the arguments that the Government have put forward about how they wish to deal with industry and the economy generally.

For all those reasons, Opposition Members have legitimate grounds for wanting to raise their genuine concerns about the clause and move amendments to it, and are not doing so just as an exercise in political point scoring. I would prefer the clause simply to be removed, rather than the amendment be accepted, but I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to the points that have been made.

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Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife 4:00 pm, 15th July 2010

I shall be relatively brief. It is perhaps worth noting that since my hon. Friend Mr Jones first commented on the lack of interest from those on the Government Benches, there has been a flurry of-I suspect-BlackBerry messages going out, so that we are now being treated to no fewer than five Conservative Back Benchers. They have joined us for the afternoon, yet not a single Liberal Democrat has arrived in the Chamber.

It would be wrong of me to suggest that the Liberal Democrats are simply uninterested in the Budget, so could it be that the Chancellor, having been thwarted in his plans for a millionaire's inheritance tax break, came up with a new wheeze after the coalition deal? How could he help his friends in the City? Unsurprisingly, the Chancellor's new wheeze is to reverse the previous Government's policy of trying to find a more equitable approach to pensions. That, I suggest, is the reason why our Liberal Democrat colleagues have not been advised of the importance of this debate. For if they saw the skilful manoeuvre that the Economic Secretary is trying to perform on the Committee today, they would surely rush to the Chamber to show their outrage at this terrible scheme.

It is a slightly unusual situation when a Minister as artful and articulate as the Economic Secretary tells us this afternoon that the current system is terrible-that it does not work; that it is unfair and unclear-yet has not been able to articulate what would replace it. It strikes me, as a perhaps naive and innocent new Member, that the starting point for any Government-particularly a Government who are so terribly keen to reduce regulation and bureaucracy-should be as follows: rather than introducing legislation that has no purpose except to give them some wriggle room, the Government would have been better off spending their time coming up with an alternative proposal for the Committee to examine, instead of giving the Minister the opportunity to spend her summer and that of her civil servants coming up with a new scheme.

To conclude, although I look forward to the Minister's reply, I suspect that we will hear no detail whatever about what the Government plan to replace the current system with, and that in six months' time she will not have been able to find a suitable replacement.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

May I start by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess?

We have had a wide-ranging debate today and I will do my best to answer a number of the issues that Opposition Members have raised. However, it would perhaps be best for me first to set out the background to this debate, as the shadow Minister did. This issue was first looked at by the previous Government, and we have returned to it as a new Government. The coalition Government inherited from their predecessor the largest budget deficit of any economy in Europe, with the single exception of Ireland. One pound in every four that we spend is borrowed. The gap stands at £149 billion for this financial year alone.

The previous Government had planned to raise extra revenue through the restriction of pensions relief for higher-rate earners. As we have heard, that approach was due to raise £4 billion to £5 billion a year by 2014-15. Given the appalling state of the public finances that we have been left as a new Government, it is something that we cannot ignore.

On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary set out our commitment to fairness. This is a progressive Budget that ensures that every part of society makes a contribution to deficit reduction, while protecting the most vulnerable, especially children in poverty and pensioners. The Budget has a number of measures to support pensioners, not least the triple lock guaranteeing an annual increase in the state pension in line with earnings, prices or a 2.5% increase, whichever is the higher.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Let me make some progress.

That will benefit 11 million pensioners across the country. Through clause 6, which we will debate next, the Budget will enable individuals to make more flexible use of their pension savings.

Returning to clause 5, the Government have considered pension tax relief issues and believe that reform is a necessary part of their commitment to tackling the fiscal deficit. It is worth citing the views of Robert Chote, who heads up the Institute for Fiscal Studies, following the Budget. He spoke about this measure on 23 June:

"Perhaps the most welcome change was the decision to rethink the last Government's complex, unfair and inefficient plans to limit pension contributions relief for high earners."

That was what he thought about it.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

On that point, does the Minister also agree with the IFS analysis of the Budget, which pointed out that it was not progressive, but regressive, and that the most progressive elements of it were those that she inherited from the previous Government's Budget?

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Many people on the minimum wage will not view it as progressive for someone who can afford to pay upwards of £100,000 a year into a pension fund to be given a 20% marginal rate tax break. In fact, that was not the only problem. Having listened to the concerns of the pensions industry and employers, this Government have real reservations about the approach towards pensions tax relief that was adopted in the Finance Act 2010. We believe it could have unwelcome consequences for pension saving, bring significant complexity into the tax system and damage UK business and competitiveness. The director general of the CBI said of the previous Government's measure, brought forward in the Finance Act 2010:

"This will have serious consequences-it will make it much harder for UK business to attract and retain global talent... In every way, it's a bad move."

In addition, a number of features of the approach adopted in the Finance Act 2010 were unfair. For example, it included a very complicated income test, which made it difficult for individuals and advisers to understand. It also made it difficult for individuals to plan, as they would not know their final income until the end of the tax year so they would not know until then whether or by how much they would be affected. The income test also created many perverse incentives, avoidance opportunities and anomalies. For example, different charges could arise, depending on whether an individual or their employer made the pension contributions.

Under the approach in the Finance Act 2010, individuals on the highest incomes, who are able to put in very large pension contributions-upwards of £100,000 to £200,000 in one year-would have continued to get pensions tax relief, as they would still have been able to get relief at the basic rate rather than the higher rate. That is worth up to £51,000 a year. Given our concern for fairness, we believe-

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

We are proposing a different approach, which would address that very measure. The decision for the hon. Gentleman to take tonight is on whether people who are able to pay £100,000 to £200,000 a year into their pension fund should be able to get tax relief at the basic rate. That is the question for him to answer.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

There are hints in the Red Book about the annual allowance taking the strain, so will the Minister tell us whether that is the only approach that is going to be looked at, or is she considering a range of different approaches? She is comparing a system that was legislated for and consulted on with a replacement about which the House has no real information. As I say, there is a hint in the Red Book, but nothing else. Will she help us focus the comparison by doing us the courtesy of telling us what her Government are going to develop as an alternative?

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 4:15 pm, 15th July 2010

I was just about to come to that. One thing that we know right now about the existing plans is that if they came in from April 2011, they would curtail, but still give, basic rate tax relief to people who can afford to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds into a pension every year. Our alternative approach looks principally at significantly reducing the annual allowance to curtail that effect. We think that the annual tax relief available will potentially be restricted to less than half that available under the previous Government's plan, significantly curtailing the ability of the super-rich to benefit from pensions tax relief. That alternative approach is supported by the pensions industry, including the National Association of Pension Funds, as well as employers and their representatives, including the CBI. The Government are keen to continue to engage with the pensions industry, employers and other interested parties to specify the level of the annual allowance, and other relevant design features.

Let me leave no uncertainty about our fiscal objectives. The Government are clear that a reduced annual allowance approach would have to raise no less revenue than the existing plans to restrict pensions tax relief in order to enable us to meet our commitment to deficit reduction. That is why we are not repealing the existing regime at this point, while we are finding a better way of achieving our objectives.

Ms Eagle asked for more detail. Our provisional analysis suggests that the appropriate level for the annual allowance could be in the region of £30,000 to £45,000 in order to deliver the necessary yield to the Treasury. However, the level required would be influenced by a number of policy design features in the revised regime. Once those have been decided, we can repeal the measures in the previous Government's Finance Act 2010. Clause 5 therefore gives the Treasury a power to make an order repealing section 23 and schedule 2 in that Act.

Those measures, which are known as the high income excess relief charge, restrict pensions tax relief to the basic rate for high-income individuals, with effect from 6 April 2011. Let us be clear, however, that they still give basic rate tax relief to high-income individuals. The Government want to consult on a new approach. We want to discuss how best to design an alternative approach to make sure that it can operate fairly and effectively. The power to repeal is time-limited, because we recognise the need to resolve the design of the restriction of pensions tax relief as quickly as possible. We have already begun discussions with groups, which will continue through the summer.

Amendment 60 proposes that we should publish a report outlining the new arrangements and details of the yield implications and distributional impacts. I have some sympathy with the thrust of the amendment, but it will ultimately be unnecessary, because there will clearly be a chance for people to look over the draft legislation, and we will not repeal the high income excess relief charge until details of the alternative regime have been finalised and set out in public.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank the Minister for giving way on this important point. Will she undertake to provide a distributional analysis so that we can compare directly the effects of the system that she wants to repeal, with the system that the Government finally settle on if she can find an alternative? That is the essence of the amendment, so her answer to this question is quite important.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

A whole range of analyses and impact statements will come out with the legislation. I suspect that, as my hon. Friend Greg Hands behind me is saying, any work that is done would give an answer that Opposition Members would not like, because it would show that we are no longer going to give basic rate tax relief to people who can afford to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds into a pension pot every year.

Let me address some of the issues that have been raised. I have set out the time frame within which we want to progress towards a better alternative to the current system. We all agree that, for pensions tax relief to remain affordable, we have to limit high levels of tax-privileged pensions saving, but we think that there is a better way of doing it than the one set out by the previous Government. We believe it is important to reduce the annual allowance to prevent people from saving £255,000 a year tax free.

The hon. Member for Wallasey mentioned instances of people suddenly being able to pay a large amount into a pension fund on a one-off basis. She was right to raise that matter, and we shall be looking at options for protecting basic rate taxpayers and supporting any hard cases caused by such one-off spikes in pension accruals. She also asked about the lifetime allowance being changed. We have not ruled that out, but it is obviously a key mechanism that sits alongside the annual allowance. We shall therefore have to look at it in the context of where we end up going with the annual allowance limit. I should say that all this is subject to being able to work with key stakeholders to get something that we believe we can rely on. That is why the provisions will give us the power to repeal that measure, if we can find a better way.

I particularly want to respond to the argument from Labour Members that our proposals would somehow give a tax break to the most well-off people in the country. Let us have a look at some of the figures involved. Of course, the minute I say that, I lose the relevant bit of paper. Ah, here it is. Under the terms of the Finance Act 2010, someone who is contributing £283,000 to their pension fund on an annual basis would have had a tax charge, net of pension relief, of £85,000. Someone making the same contribution to their pension pot under a potential annual allowance level of £35,000 would have a tax charge, net of relief, of £124,000. The reason for that is that they would get 20% tax relief on the income that they would otherwise have paid a much higher rate of tax on. That is why they would pay just under £40,000 a year more under our proposed scheme than they would have done under the previous Government's arrangements.

I wonder whether those Labour MPs who are so concerned about the impact of tax policy on the better-off people in this country will go through the Lobby today and vote for a measure that means that people who can afford to pay £283,000 a year into their pension pot will pay £40,000 less tax than they would previously have done. I do not know what Labour Members think "good" looks like in relation to taxing better-off people, but I guess I will find out when we have a Division on this amendment shortly.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour, Nottingham East

The hon. Lady is talking to us as though we were schoolchildren, but she will not publish her proposals. Will she now agree to place in the Library a copy of the table that she has in front of her straight away, or this evening, so that we can all share in this secret plan?

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman was so intelligent that he could do the maths himself. The calculation is pretty straightforward. It is a bit like doing a tax calculation where someone has an allowance and then a rate, and they apply it to the excess of the allowance that they are paying in extra.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Conservative, West Suffolk

Does my hon. Friend remember a distributional table ever being placed in a Budget under the Labour Government?

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I have no recollection of that, but I will not take up more of the time of the Committee. The last figures that I set out probably spoke louder-

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour, Nottingham East

On a point of order, Mr Amess. Is it in order for the Minister to withhold information to which she has clearly referred in the debate from the rest of the Members engaging in the discussion?

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

It seems that I'm damned if I give information and damned if I don't. I was asked to provide some facts, and I made sure that I gave some facts and figures. Now that I have provided some to the Committee, apparently that is a bad thing to do too. I think the problem is that the figures I have just provided are not ones that Opposition Members want to confront. They are about to go through the Lobby and vote on people who can afford to put a couple of hundred thousand pounds into their pension pot paying more tax net of pension relief than less.

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Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

I am grateful to the Minister for helping us to understand how much the Chancellor can afford to put into his pension fund. How can we confront figures that we do not get to see?

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I was asked for some figures and what the impact would be on the very richest. We can probably find in Hansard tomorrow that I have just provided the Committee with that information. That is probably the way in which debates are meant to work. Ministers have questions put to them and if they can answer them in some detail, they do. That is what I have done. I have set out in some detail why we are pursuing the clause. I hope that everyone realises that it is sensible and a pragmatic way to address the industry's concerns. The industry faced a £1 billion bill for implementing excessively complicated and unfair tax changes on pensions tax relief. We hope that we can reach a conclusion with the industry and all stakeholders, but the key issue is to address the fiscal deficit, so any solution will have to bring in no less money than the mechanism intended by the previous Government.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Minister (Treasury)

We have had a long discussion, so I will be brief. I appreciate the information, such as it was, that the Minister was able to put before us about the shape of the alternative scheme. It is a bit like shadow boxing when one tries to compare a scheme that has already been legislated for with one that has been only hinted at in the Red Book. That has been the problem with this debate.

I was candid about the issues and trade-offs that we had to go through to come up with the structure for which we legislated in the Finance Act 2010. I hope that the Minister and her colleagues will be as candid as they try to develop this other method. She said that she was sympathetic, but she is still resisting the amendment to put a report before the House that will contain distributional analyses and much more information about this alternative system. That is a great pity. We shall divide the Committee on that amendment as the Minister has not given us an undertaking to provide that information. I also want a separate vote on clause 5.

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Question put, That the amendment be made .

The Committee divided: Ayes 196, Noes 310.

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Question accordingly negatived.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 310, Noes 198.

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Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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