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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:37 pm on 23rd March 2011.

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Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Conservative, Orpington 4:37 pm, 23rd March 2011

No, I will carry on for a little.

In my view, it is only thanks to the resolve and determination of this Government that we have sufficient credibility with the bond markets to have delivered a Budget for growth. The Budget includes an acceleration of the plans to cut corporation tax, which will give a much-needed boost to Britain’s international competitiveness. I am particularly pleased by that because at a time when countries need to compete ever more aggressively to attract highly skilled labour, the UK is increasingly being seen not just as a high-tax economy, but as one with a highly complex and unwieldy tax system. The World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness report for 2011 ranked the UK tax regime the 95th most competitive out of 135 countries—almost at the bottom of the world rankings. That sends out a terrible signal to global business.

The UK tax regime was once viewed as an asset and I am glad that the Government are proceeding with plans to make it an asset once again. I fully support the Chancellor’s plans to give Britain the most competitive business tax regime of any major western economy, and to reverse our slide down the global competitiveness rankings. Already, the coalition Government have reversed planned increases in payroll taxes and lowered small business rates. As we heard from the Chancellor this afternoon, they will accelerate reductions in corporation tax so that by 2014, the rate falls to 23%—the lowest ever rate in this country and the lowest in the G7. That is something that we should celebrate if we are serious about enterprise and entrepreneurialism in this country.

I also welcome the Chancellor’s decision to analyse closely whether the top rate of tax is yield positive or negative for the British economy. It is worth considering whether it is deterring investment, thereby losing us more revenue than it is bringing in. A more competitive, simpler and more stable tax regime is an essential precondition for growth and will ultimately be better for everybody in this country, rich and poor alike.

When countries that had public finances in a comparable state to ours last May are still fighting off the terrible spectre of sovereign debt default, it would be terrible folly to slow the pace of what is widely regarded as a necessary fiscal consolidation. Our policies are under intense scrutiny by the international bond markets, to which we are paying £120 million in interest daily. We cannot afford for our borrowing costs to rise, as they have elsewhere. We are paying 3.6% in the gilt markets on our staggering public debt. Other countries are paying rates closer to 8% or 9%, and Greece is paying a staggering 12.6%. We simply cannot afford to be complacent, as the Governor of the Bank of England made clear in a recent hearing of the Treasury Committee, at which he stated firmly that UK gilt rates would rise by three percentage points if we backtracked from the course of fiscal consolidation that we have outlined.