‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within six months of Royal Assent, lay before Parliament proposals for an income tax rate of 10 per cent. on a band of income above the personal allowance.
(2) The range of income covered by the 10 per cent. rate proposal in subsection (1) shall be determined by the Exchequer yield of a mansion tax.
(3) The full benefit of the 10 per cent. rate shall not be available to taxpayers paying the higher or additional rates of tax.’.—(Chris Leslie.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 9 calls for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, within six months of Royal Assent to the Finance Act, to lay before Parliament proposals for an income tax rate of 10% on a band of income above the personal allowance. The range of income to be covered by that 10% rate should be determined by the Exchequer yield from a mansion tax—a Liberal Democrat proposal that I used to think the Liberal Democrats stood four-square behind. Perhaps in a moment those Liberal Democrats who remain in the Chamber—they are diminishing in number—will tell us a little about where they stand on the issue.
We feel that the full benefit of that 10% or 10p rate of income tax should not be available to taxpayers paying the higher or additional rates—the £50,000-and-above levels, or higher rate payers. It should be targeted and focused on basic rate taxpayers. That is the logic of new clause 9.
We think that the measure would be welcomed across the country, and that all hon. Members, including Conservative Members, should consider it seriously, because living standards are being squeezed, and for most people, life is getting a lot harder, as is manifested by the fact that wages have fallen in real terms. In fact, at the beginning of the year, we saw the steepest fall in living standards since the 1970s. That is a direct consequence of the tax and spending choices and priorities of the Government parties—the tax credit cuts that have hit lower and middle-income households; the squeeze on child benefits; and the rise in the VAT rate to 20%.
What does the hon. Gentleman say to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which states that the latest Labour proposal to reintroduce the 10p rate
“has no plausible economic justification. It would complicate the income tax system and achieve nothing that could not be better achieved in other ways”?
I would say that the aim of the 10p policy should be to encourage people on low incomes to take higher-paid work, to work longer hours and to start the transition up the income scale. That is why it
“is right that we need to introduce a 10p tax rate in the interim; otherwise, people will go straight from their tax-free allowance to being taxed on any income above that.”—[Hansard, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 37WH.]
Those are not my words but those of George Eustice, in a debate in favour of a 10p starting rate of tax that was held some months ago.
“a 10p tax rate would cost half the amount of an increase in the personal allowance. There would be an impact on more people. We should support the aim of securing a new 10p tax rate, because it would help the poorest paid but also emphasise the need for everyone who works to contribute to society”.—[ Hansard, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 40WH.]
Another Conservative Member, Martin Vickers, said:
“A commitment to a 10p tax rate would send the clear message that we are indeed all in it together.”—[Hansard, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 44WH.]
“I believe that restoring the 10p rate would help the coalition to counter the war cry of its political opponents that it is only interested in cutting taxes for millionaires. It would prove to the public that ‘lower taxes for lower earners’ is not just a soundbite but that it can be a reality”.—[Hansard, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 34WH.]
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that
“it would help to tackle the desperate stagnation in incomes that Britain has suffered”.—[Hansard, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 38WH.]
Those are four colleagues of the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds who would recommend to him the concept of a 10p rate. I wonder whether he agrees with them.
I want to return to the question that I asked the hon. Gentleman. Most technical experts say that a 10p rate would complicate the tax system. Let me ask him once again: would not his proposal complicate the tax system? Indeed, was not that the reason why the Labour Government abolished the 10p rate in 2007?
I would be the first to concede that it was a mistake to abolish the 10p rate in 2007. I do not think that it creates complexity in the tax system. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has long been in favour of simplicity in the number of tax bands, but I believe that there is a genuine debate to be had about progressivity in the income tax system. The hon. Gentleman’s colleagues can see the case for a 10p rate, and I believe that it would be a useful way of introducing a transition from the tax-free personal allowance to the 20p basic rate of tax. A 10p rate would be an important staging post along the way. A tax cut for those on lower and middle incomes would be broadly welcomed throughout the country.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is in the very nature of progressive taxation to have increasing marginal tax rates as someone earns more money? The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that there is therefore a genuine trade-off between social justice and increasing fairness, as people have more money, and tax efficiency. That is fair enough, and we should opt for progressive justice.
Indeed. Having a 10p band in the income tax scale ensures that we can focus on that sense of fairness. “Fairness” is a word that might not necessarily be recognised by some Members on the Government Benches, but it is important in our tax system. We know that their idea of fairness is to cut the highest rate of income tax from 50p to 45p. They can justify that in their own terms, and to their own constituents, but we believe that it is far better to focus on giving help by introducing that lower rate straight above the personal allowance.
The hon. Gentleman wishes to pay for a 10p rate from the proceeds of a mansion tax. Will he advise the House of Labour’s definition of a mansion? Could it, for example, include an one or two-bedroom flat in central London that was lived in by people of rather modest means?
I think the right hon. Gentleman is thinking of the bedroom tax, and we can come to that in a moment. I will come to the details of what a mansion tax would look like. We have looked carefully at the well-crafted and evidently well-thought-through proposal from the Liberal Democrats. They have proposed that properties worth £2 million or more should attract an annual charge, saying that that could net approximately £2 billion. That would allow an income tax band of around £1,000, which would give a tax cut of about £100 to those benefiting from the 10p band.
It is interesting that the mansion tax could raise £2 billion. I wholeheartedly agree with such a proposal. If we could transfer that £2 billion from the pockets of the wealthy and give it to the poorest, it would undoubtedly find its way back into the economy. That is very much what is needed. We need to push more money into the economy, and to try as best we can to stimulate some kind of growth. We are seeing nothing at the moment.
My hon. Friend has touched on the other argument in favour of the proposal. This is not just a matter of fairness; there is also an economic imperative involved.
I apologise for boring the House about the need for growth and jobs in our economy. That seems to be anathema to some Members on the Government Benches. Many lower and middle income families have suffered increased taxes and cuts to their tax credits, and that is the price that they are paying for the failure of the Government’s economic ideology. The Government promised that all this pain would be worth while. The Chancellor promised that he had done all he needed to do, and that he would not need to come back and ask for more, but what did we see last week? He came back for yet more. That is the price to be paid for the Government’s failed economic plan. The economy is flatlining, and the Government have delivered barely 1% of economic growth since the fabled 2010 spending review in which they promised 6% by now. And let us not forget the rising deficit in the last financial year, up from £118.5 billion in 2011-12 to £118.7 billion in 2012-13. That is a rise in the deficit—
I am not sure how many elderly people would find themselves in that predicament, but such circumstances ought to be dealt with in the design of a mansion tax. The hon. Gentleman will therefore see the logic of our new clause, which seeks to encourage the Chancellor to introduce proposals within six months. Let us look at the design of them, and think about those rare circumstances in which someone might be living in a £2 million property but have no means by which to pay an annual levy. I imagine that that would be quite rare—it is perhaps quite difficult to believe—but such circumstances might exist. I am convinced that the hon. Gentleman’s Liberal Democrat colleagues have thought through all those points when they drew up their carefully crafted proposals. Perhaps there are channels between the coalition parties that we are not party to, and perhaps they exchange information on these matters. I am sure that such a tax could be designed correctly, if not by the Chancellor then by the Office for Budget Responsibility, if that would be a better way of doing it.
Is my hon. Friend as puzzled as I am by the Government’s opposition to this proposal? During the previous debate on the top rate of tax, the Minister and Government Back Benchers were suggesting that our proposal would not deliver revenue because people would avoid the tax system. They suggested that a higher rate system would not generate income, but they now seem to be opposed to a proposal for a tax on a fixed asset, which presumably would not move. My hon. Friend is making a valuable contribution and I hope that some Members on the Government Benches will join us in the Lobby later.
It is the oft-trotted-out claim of the Liberal Democrats that they are there to temper the worst excesses of the Conservative party, and perhaps they do exercise such influence. We all know that the Conservatives are there to defend the wealth of the very wealthiest in society—that is a given—but we want to see whether the Liberal Democrats in the coalition have managed to bend that ideology a little more towards the centre ground of politics and towards the space in which most people would agree that those with the greatest assets and wealth should make a fairer contribution. That would be a good thing to do.
Can the hon. Gentleman clarify, for any of my constituents who might inhabit one of those 55,000 properties, that the levy that would be imposed on them would be £36,000? Is that correct?
I do not think that it would necessarily be £36,000. Again, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman talks with the Liberal Democrats, who have done some careful workings on this. He will be interested to know that the Government have introduced about 90 clauses in the Bill that relate to ATED—annual tax on enveloped dwellings—which is basically code for a mansions tax on properties owned by companies. I recommend that he reads through the 90-odd clauses. Essentially, the Government are introducing a tax on properties worth more than £2 million, with a new annual fee, to be assessed in a very detailed way. He will see that there is a set of bands for the value of the property, from £2 million to £5 million and right up the scale. The Treasury has therefore been doing a lot of work on the issue, and I think that it should be commended, because it is very worth while. When we debated the matter in Committee, we asked what would happen if the annual tax on enveloped dwellings applied not only to properties owned by companies, but to all those worth more than £2 million. That information would allow us to work out properly what the rates would be.
There is a real question of financial competence, particularly in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s boss, so can he substantiate his argument, because it is his new clause that we are discussing? He needs to give us answers. My maths is not so good, so can he tell me, if he wants to raise £2 billion, how much the levy would be for 55,000 properties?
That is precisely why we think the proposal needs the Treasury’s support—to ensure that we can see what the levy would be. To return to our new clause, we think that the Liberal Democrats make a reasonable point that £2 billion could be raised on properties worth more than £2 million. We have not included those figures in our new clause; we have simply said that the Exchequer Secretary should study the issue and consider a 10p income tax rate band, to be funded by the proceeds of a mansion tax. That obviously depends on how wide the 10p band would be, so it is obviously moveable and that would flow through into the figures on the mansions tax.
I am afraid that I am going to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. He says that the Labour party’s objective is to raise £2 billion. Our assessment, as my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes has pointed out, is that there are 55,000 properties worth more than £2 million in the country. We have the finest minds in the Treasury working on this, and they have divided £2 billion by 55,000—it did not require a huge amount of work—and ended up with an average of £36,000 a year as the annual levy. That is an average, and there might be some cases where the hon. Gentleman would want a lower rate for those who are property rich but cash poor. Can we just have some clarity? Does the Labour party want an average levy of £36,000 on all properties worth more than £2 million?
That was a good try by the Exchequer Secretary, and I understand where he is going with that argument, but I am not an estate agent and do not have a figure for the number of properties worth more than £2 million. However, it is very interesting that the Government have started counting the number of such properties. He talks about how the £2 billion would be defrayed across that number, which I am not sure is correct, but of course there would be a banding exercise, with different bands for properties worth more than £2 million, and we would see how far that goes. That is precisely why we need the Treasury to share some of its calculations with us. I am sure that it must be more than a back-of-a-fag-packet calculation from the Exchequer Secretary. Let us do the work, publish the findings—
Well, I will give way to him if he will agree to publish that work. Will he publish the internal Treasury assessment of the policy, because it would be very helpful?
Short of showing the workings, £2 billion divided by 55,000 is £36,000. The hon. Gentleman says that there would be different bands, but we would still end up with an average of £36,000. He will also find that most of the properties worth more than £2 million are worth only slightly more—between £2 million and £3 million. He will not find huge numbers of properties worth between £5 million and £10 million and so on. He has all the numbers he needs. I think that we can move on to the next debate.
I know that the Liberal Democrats support the Government on that and note the sedentary remarks from one of only two Liberal Democrats in the Chamber today. It is typical of the Treasury to hold back key information on these facts and figures. We need to know where those properties are and what valuations have been made. The Exchequer Secretary has done the work on the annual tax on enveloped dwellings, but he did not say that he would publish those findings. I think that we might be about to reach some consensus on this, because he is suggesting that the Treasury has done some work on it secretly, rather like the secrets held back in the spending review document, which was so thin that we still do not really know where the cuts have hit. Why does he not publish that information and start telling us how that could work in those circumstances? Will he publish it?
Actually, I quoted the figure of 55,000, which appears to have come as a huge surprise to the hon. Gentleman, several times when we had a similar debate in Committee. Admittedly, he was not dealing with the matter; his hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell was. The figure has been in the public domain for some time. Has he done any work on the matter?
I do not know how simple I need to make the point for the Exchequer Secretary, so I will do so very slowly and particularly. The new clause suggests that the Treasury—that means him, by the way—should publish some proper, worked-through evidence on where those properties lie across the country, how a banding proposal might work and what the options for the width of the 10p starting rate of income tax might be. By the way, he did not say a word about whether or not he supports a 10p starting rate of income tax.
Surely my hon. Friend will agree that the figure of 55,000 is a complete red herring. It is being said that housing wealth should be progressively taxed, and that the current council tax rates are out of date. Some of these properties are worth much more than £2 million, and perhaps even £10 million—we hear stories about Russian oligarchs and all the rest of it. Add to that the Chancellor’s strategy to generate more sub-prime debt by offering cut-price mortgage deals, and we will presumably have a progressive system of different rates and a thought-out new council tax regime that would be progressive, and we would not end up with everyone paying £36,000 at all, and the Minister knows it.
That is why we must ensure that we move the issue forward and get some proper workings from the Treasury—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate seems to think that he has all the answers, so why do the Government not publish them? What is going on with Government Members? They should share these things in the public domain. Do we really have to make a freedom of information request to Ministers in order to get those data?
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. The Liberal Democrat 2010 manifesto—I know that he has his own signed copy—said that they would introduce a mansion tax at the rate of 1% on properties worth more than £2 million, paid on the value of property above that level. We looked closely at the workings they did on the issue. They suggested that £2 billion of revenue could be raised. If that was extrapolated through to the 10p band, the band would be roughly £1,000, but it might not be. We should look at the details.
I know that maths is not the hon. Gentleman’s strongest suit, because in Committee we heard that he could raise £2 billion from £1.85 billion in bonus taxes. The Minister has been very clear that £2 billion divided by 55,000 is £36,000 on average. Does the hon. Gentleman at least accept the principle that this is going to cost taxpayers £36,000 per household on average, not in relation to bands?
The Government have apparently undertaken their own valuation exercise, perhaps stealthily, so they could publish the information on the numbers of properties across the country. Perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister, with his 16 special advisers, fanned out across the country to look at the issue. I do not know how they found out the 55,000 figure. If the hon. Gentleman has that information and publishes it, I will be interested to see it, but I am afraid I cannot be certain that it is the correct figure. Labour Members have to be very careful and cautious in taxation matters. We want to make sure that all the figures are very clear and well worked through instead of taking the Exchequer Secretary’s back-of-a-fag-packet approach. I take it as a commitment from him that all this information will be published in the public domain, and then perhaps we can work on devising this measure in a less partisan way.
Does my hon. Friend find it extraordinary that Government Members appear to have been sitting down with their pocket calculators regarding the mansion tax, but none of them has come up with how much ordinary taxpayers who pay the basic rate of tax would benefit from the 10p proposal?
On the 10% tax rate, I understand graduated taxation in principle, but a lot of people who pay the higher rate of tax are not very rich. Paragraph (3) of the new clause says:
“The full benefit of the 10 per cent rate shall not be available to taxpayers paying the higher or additional rates of tax.”
That seems to be pretty unfair on some people.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s thought on this issue, but I disagree. I do understand that more and more people are being brought into the 40p rate. That is another stealthy move by the Chancellor as he broadens out the 40p band. In the interests of fairness, our concern has to be with basic-rate taxpayers on the 20p rate. There are 25 million basic-rate taxpayers, and if revenue is to be generated from a mansion tax, then most of our efforts should be focused on that group. As my hon. Friend Susan Elan Jones said, that is the group in society who feel under the most pressure and are finding it hardest to get by and to make ends meet, and they would therefore benefit most from this tax cut. It is an important point, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised it.
I wish to make a procedural point. Does not the shadow Minister accept that when a Minister asks his officials for some information and they research it, and he then comes to the House to impart that information to us, that is publishing the information? I know that that will come as a shock to a Labour shadow Minister, because Labour Ministers always made sure that somebody else was told rather than Parliament, but I rather like the fact that the Minister researches this, takes us seriously and tells us the answer. Why cannot we now work from the published answer?
Obviously I believe every word that the Exchequer Secretary utters, because it would be unparliamentary to do otherwise, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am asking for just a little bit more from him. I just want to see the detail that the Treasury has produced on the mansion tax proposition. It would be entirely possible for him to put that in the public domain. I am sure that even Liberal Democrats would like to see it and would find it of interest, as would other hon. Members.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we seem to have got involved in a debate that is certainly not the debate that the Deputy Prime Minister was engaged in as recently as February when he talked about the advantages of a 1% levy on properties over £2 million or the possibility of extending council tax bands? It seems a bit strange that he was in favour of that and, presumably, his hon. Friends are in favour of it. Perhaps that is what we should really be talking about.
“Victor Hugo observed that it is near impossible to resist an idea once its time is come…He was again proved right as calls for a mansion tax, first proposed by the Liberal Democrats in 2009, gathered new momentum…I offer certainty: the mansion tax, or a version of it, will happen.”
We all know that when he is determined to get these things through, he is a very persuasive individual.
In clause 97—on page 57 at about line 27, for those who are interested—there is a table of the amount chargeable under the mansion tax for homes owned by companies, which is, in essence, what the Government are proposing. For properties worth between £2 million and £5 million, the annual chargeable amount would be £15,000 a year; for those worth between £5 million and £10 million, it would be £35,000; for those worth between £10 million and £20 million, it would be £70,000; and for those worth more than £20 million, it would be £140,000. That is the Government’s half-hearted attempt at a mansion tax. Thankfully, we have it in black and white—well, black and green—in this Bill. We tabled the new clause because we would like to see equivalent detail on how a mansion tax would work on a range of different widths of the 10p tax rate band, and then we can make a judgment about what change it is reasonable and prudent to implement.
My hon. Friends are right to start to focus on the other part of the pantomime horse. I am sure that the Liberal Democrats are sometimes in the lead on these issues in the coalition. They are in a very precarious position on the mansion tax. Having advocated it for so long, they have consistently found ways and means to vote against it whenever it has been presented to the House. I do not know whether the Liberal Democrat present in the Chamber, Mike Thornton, wants to say how he is going to vote today, but I live in hope. In a spirit of cross-party consensus, I hope that he will agree with his noble Friend Lord Ashdown, who warned those in his party before the last time they changed their minds on this issue that it would be “weird” for fellow Liberal Democrats to vote against such things. The Business Secretary said:
“It depends entirely on how they phrase it. If it is purely a statement of support for the principle of the mansion tax I’m sure my colleagues would want to support it.”
That was like the version of the amendment that we tabled previously. We did not get very far with it on that occasion, so this time we have tried a proposal that explicitly talks about passing on the revenue to those who need it most of all through the 10p rate of income tax.
The proposal has not been plucked from the air. Other jurisdictions have equivalent property charges at certain levels. I gather that in New York City, which is hardly a bastion of socialism, owners of properties worth more than $3 million—roughly £2 million—can find that they need to pay the equivalent of £22,000 a year under their form of mansion tax. The Treasury’s own documents have blown apart the argument that the Exchequer Secretary used to deploy, which was “This stuff isn’t workable; it would mean mass revaluations of council tax.” All those things have been pushed to one side as the Government propose their brand new tax—the annual tax on enveloped dwellings. That is clear as the light of day. It has four bands, which suggests that it is entirely feasible.
The documentation on ATED states:
“The aim of the new annual charge is both to deter avoidance and to ensure the owners of high value residential property pay their fair share of tax.”
We can all go along with that. The document continues:
“The interest to which the charge will apply will be the freehold or leasehold interest”.
So far, so good. It also notes that the annual charge will be applied separately to the freehold and the leasehold and that the value of the property interest
“which will be relevant for the annual charge” will be its value on
The document explains how the Government’s new mansion tax could work:
“Property valuations for the annual charge will be self-assessed by the persons liable to the charge and submitted to HMRC as part of their annual charge tax return. HMRC will have powers to enquire into returns and also to make assessments so that non-compliance can be effectively challenged”.
It goes on:
“Properties will be re-valued every five years”.
If that applies to £2 million properties in a company-corporate wrapper—the enveloped arrangement—perhaps it could provide the basis of a broader application of a mansion tax.
The document goes on to say:
“will offer a pre-return valuation checking service to property owners.”
It sounds as though the Treasury is gearing up towards a mansion tax. The Government’s approach to ATED suggests that the question about whether a mansion tax is feasible and can be delivered has been answered not only by Liberal Democrat and Labour Members, but by the Exchequer Secretary himself.
My hon. Friend will know that there is an increasing trend of international financiers buying London properties in particular as part of their asset portfolio in an uncertain world and that, at the top end of the market, an increasing share of them are owned by Russian oligarchs, oil sheikhs and so on. Does he agree, therefore, that this is a great opportunity to introduce a charge on foreign owners who invest in London—which is fair enough—in order to redistribute some of their massive wealth to the poorest people in Britain?
Yes, I agree. Governments often ask Oppositions how they will pay for tax cuts for those who need them most. We have given a clear example of one possible option. It is important to show that there is a fair way to give a tax cut to the vast majority of lower and middle-income households through the introduction of the new 10p band. The mansion tax is feasible and has cross-party support, as indeed does the 10p starting rate, and the Minister’s arguments are diminishing by the day, to the extent that we have managed to get him to lift the skirt of the data and publish more of them, which is what we want to see.
It is important to consider the arguments for fairness behind the 10p starting rate, which we think would provide a good tax incentive into work, especially for those on lower incomes. It is widely supported, especially by those Conservative Members who were champing at the bit only a matter of months ago when they tried to persuade the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to consider the proposal. Conservative Back Benchers have managed to get the Government on the run on their favoured topics, including an EU referendum and a tax break for married couples. They have the bit between their teeth, so perhaps we can persuade them to consider the 10p tax rate, too.
The principle of fair taxation is at stake in this debate. It should transcend party differences. We should be looking at funding a tax cut, not defending the wealth of the wealthiest. If the Government really mean it when they say that we are all in this together, the time has come for a mansion tax to help those most in need. The Government have a history of giving tax cuts to the wealthiest—they have already reduced the 50p rate, thereby giving millionaires a tax cut—and they have hit pensioners with what came to be known as the granny tax.
I did say earlier—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber—that it was a mistake to get rid of it in 2007. There were arguments. The Institute for Fiscal Studies looked at the issues. The basic rate of income tax had been reduced and calculations had to be made about how to pay for it. I think, however, that the right thing to do is to take these steps and have progressivity in the income tax scale.
It is wrong to hurt those in society who are most in need. They are paying the price and life is getting harder for them because the Government’s economic plan has failed. We need to concentrate on the contribution that the wealthiest 1% in society should make. They should pay a fairer share and we should make sure that that money goes to the vast majority—25 million people—on lower and middle incomes.
In essence this debate is about political choices and not just the technical efficiencies of marginal rates of tax. When this Government took over from Labour in 2010, two thirds of the deficit had been created by the banking community and a third by pump-priming in response to the financial tsunami after a history of sustained growth under the Labour Government. The new Government decided to focus not on growth, but on cuts to get down the deficit, which was a fundamental error that has led to a flatlining economy. They then had to decide who should bear the brunt in order to pay down the deficit—80% in cuts and 20% in taxes—and the answer that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats came up with was that it should be the poorest who were hit hardest.
The recent spending review and infrastructure plans replayed the same Tory agenda: the cuts will hit hardest in the poorest areas, including Wales and the north, and 80% of the investment in infrastructure for growth will benefit London and the south-east in order to shore up the Tory and coalition votes. This new clause is about making a move in the other direction so that the very rich make a slightly greater contribution, which will be redistributed to people in the middle and at the lower end of the income scale.
The hon. Gentleman may have read an Institute of Welsh Affairs blog today by Gerry Holtham, the well respected Welsh economist, who was scathing in his criticism of the hon. Gentleman’s party for adopting Tory austerity policies. How concerned is the hon. Gentleman, on the back of his criticisms of the UK Government’s austerity policies, about the fact that his party has adopted the very same strategy?
A moment ago I talked about Arab oil sheiks and now I am going to talk about Welsh milk shakes. On a serious note, what the Labour party has said is that when we take over in 2015, should the people of Britain give us their confidence, as I hope they will, we will inherit—this is self-evidently true—the current Government’s spending plans for 2015-16, so we will carry them out. As we make progress, I hope that the focus will switch to growth more than cuts, as it did after we inherited the Conservative party’s spending plans when we took over in 1997. We ran with those plans for a year and then we had consistent growth. The economy grew by 40% from 1997 to 2008 before the financial tsunami caused by sub-prime debt. I imagine that we will do the same in 2015. We offer no apology that we will have fiscal discipline alongside a focus on growth and that we will get people into jobs to pay down the debt. We will also change the composition of cuts to the rich and poor in certain areas.
My hon. Friend and I arrived in this House in 1997. In government, Labour confined itself to the overall spending of the previous Government, but we had different priorities which we put in place. It is not as if we came to power in a golden era. There was a debt and servicing it cost the equivalent of what was being spent on transport and defence put together. There was no golden inheritance. We had difficult choices to make as well.
I am glad that my hon. Friend brings that point up in this debate about the mansion tax. In 1997, we had the same old Tory economics, which we are seeing again because history is repeating itself. There was massive unemployment and that was being paid for by cutting services for the poorest. There was a huge debt that the Labour party paid down. The interest on that debt was excessive. We all remember Black Wednesday. We made the Bank of England independent to keep interest rates low.
The Opposition are serious about keeping interest rates low and having fiscal discipline, but our priority is economic growth. That is what any sensible business would suggest. A business man in Swansea said to me the other day, “If I was running at a loss, the last thing I would do is sack my workers and sell my tools, because I would not have a business. I would tighten up and focus on new product development and sales.” That is the balance that we want. We want a mansion tax and a 10p rate, because if we can recover some money from the richest and redistribute it to make it more worth while for everybody to work, that has to be a good thing.
Mr Redwood brought out his violin and gave the heart-breaking story of the poor people who have a two-bedroom flat in Chelsea worth £2 million. He said, “Isn’t that awful. Surely you wouldn’t do that.” That is in sharp contrast to what Tory Members say about the person in the two-bedroom council flat who will be punished because their children grow up, get on their bike and get a job, as Norman Tebbit said, and vacate their bedroom. They say that there is nothing wrong with the forced evacuation of such people from London to a one-bedroom flat in a lower cost area; but they say that it is wrong that somebody who is living in a £2 million two-bedroom flat should have to rebalance their asset portfolio to generate revenues to pay the mansion tax. If someone has a £2 million Chelsea flat, it is possible for them to rent it out at enormous rents, live somewhere else in the countryside that is many times bigger, pay the mansion tax and make a handsome profit. That is not a heart-rending problem compared with the bedroom tax. However, it appears that Tory Members are more concerned about people who own £2 million properties than people in council flats.
A woman from my neck of the woods in Swansea came to see me two weeks ago and said that she had been on the waiting list for 11 years, asking to be moved from her two-bedroom flat to a one-bedroom flat, but the council does not have any one-bedroom flats. Why is that? It is because the local council has rightly been building for families in need with children. Suddenly we have the bedroom tax, which makes no economic or social sense, but there is no admission of that from the Government.
We have made the sensible suggestion, which has been thought through by the Liberal Democrats, that we should make the council tax more progressive.
We are all aware that house prices have gone up and down in different areas at different rates. In London, there is a skewed situation, because there is very quick house price inflation compared with elsewhere. People are making enormous capital appreciations. In essence, the financial disaster was caused by the bankers and sub-prime debt. That is likely to be repeated as we approach the general election because the Chancellor and his assistant, the Exchequer Secretary, have suggested triggering more sub-prime debt by covering people’s deposits. On the one hand, they are telling the banks to run a tight ship and to have enough capital reserves to cover their lending, because they do not want them to go bust again. On the other hand, they are saying that they will subsidise the purchasing of new houses. That is likely to happen in London, because people know that there is price inflation and will take a punt with a lower deposit and at a lower risk, hoping that they will recover their money through an escalation in house prices.
The very high-value property in London is being gobbled up by foreign speculation. The expensive property is being bought by people who want to get their money out of places such as Russia and by people who have huge accumulations of money from trade or oil surpluses. There are many cases of blocks of flats in London being bought outright. Nobody is living in them because the people who buy them know that they will make so much money through appreciation that they cannot even be bothered to rent them out. It is unbelievable.
We are asking, at a time of difficult choices and austerity, for a percentage of those transactions by multi-millionaires to be redistributed to make life easier for people who work in communities across Britain, not just in London. I accept that most of these properties are in London. For example, the constituency of Jonathan Edwards does not contain a £2 million house.
The hon. Gentleman is making some partisan points, so I want to add balance to the debate. I have been poor—dirt poor. I used to share my bedroom with my siblings and cousins. By modern descriptions, I would have been classified as homeless. His main argument is about foreign capital coming to the UK and London. Does he not think that that is symptomatic of people recognising that we have a Government who are making credible decisions and creating financial stability?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for telling me his economic background. It is useful that people of modest means come here and represent a range of views.
I am all for attracting foreign capital into infrastructure and productive opportunities. For example, Swansea will celebrate the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth next year and is on the shortlist to become city of culture in 2017. I am all in favour of encouraging foreign investors to invest in infrastructure that supports our cultural asset base. They would get a return from that over time, while generating wealth, tourism and jobs.
However, we are not talking about that. We are talking about people making speculative investments in house prices. They could just as easily be investing in aluminium futures or anything else. It just happens that London houses are on the up. If people have loads of money, they can buy a few of them and their money will grow. They know that that will continue because the Exchequer is irresponsibly putting taxpayers’ money into sub-prime debt to subsidise profits and further boost inflation. That will cause an imbalance in asset values and house prices between London and the rest of Britain. That situation is being stoked up by the irresponsibility of the Government, because they think that rising house prices in London will help them deliver Tory constituencies in the general election. That cynical ploy is unbalancing everything and encouraging foreign investors to take a punt.
That is not a symptom of the great stewardship of the Tories—far from it. The record of the Tory Government has been judged. The triple A rating has been torn up and thrown away.
Order. Mr Davies, do you think that we could come back to the mansion tax and the 10p rate? Your setting of the scene has gone rather too wide of the specific issues that we are discussing.
I am grateful for your expert advice, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will move quickly back to the mansion tax.
At the moment, foreign investors are buying mansions for capital appreciation. A properly worked-out mansion tax would not be a simplistic flat rate of £36,000. That was the Government’s arithmetic—it was laughable, wasn’t it? It was, “Oy, what yer gonna do? ’Ave I got this roight? We want £2 billion, we’ve got 55,000 mansions, so you divoid it in—that’s it, it’s £36,000, innit? That’s what you’re gonna do.” Obviously, that would not be the strategy. It would be to have an escalating rate according to capital values, which would change over time.
The system would obviously have to be refined and played with, and as my hon. Friend Chris Leslie pointed out, the impact would depend on the delivery. To a certain extent, £2 billion is just a ballpark figure. That is why he asked for more detailed figures. There are various factors driving demand for such properties, and they have a range of prices in the marketplace, so the likely yield would change over time. We therefore need to consider a sophisticated system. However, it is clear that it is the right direction of travel for the very richest to make a contribution at the most difficult times, to make work pay for everybody else.
It is clear from international examples, such as in New York city, which already charges a mansion tax on $3 million properties, that the tax is tried and tested. We can learn from our friends and colleagues in America how to apply it correctly. We should come together—I know that the Liberal Democrats have always been keen on the tax, and I hope that they will join us in the Lobby to support it.
When the debates took place on whether the 50p tax should be changed, Government Members were keen to tell us that we could make up a lot of what was lost, and perhaps make even more, through various forms of property taxation. They obviously had in mind changes in stamp duty, ways of dealing with companies that buy very expensive houses and so on. We were told how much better a property tax would be than a tax on income, and that we would get far more money from it. However, when we follow that train of thought and suggest that there is merit in considering a mansion tax, we are suddenly told, “No, no, that would be terrible.” We are told either that it would be terribly expensive, and people would not be able to afford it, or that it would simply be the wrong thing to do. It seems that when we come to talk about something real, the Government run backwards as fast as they can.
We have had some figures thrown at us that are not mentioned in our new clause. They come not from anything that we have said but from what the Government have said, yet we are being told that we have to justify them. We are being told that figures such as a £2 billion yield and 55,000 houses are correct, which will mean people having to pay £36,000. I do not know whether 55,000 houses is the correct number of those that would be affected, but I do know that at the moment, according to Zoopla, there are 3,847 properties on the market for £2.1 million or more in London. That is not all the properties of that price but just those that are for sale. On that basis the figure of 55,000 is perhaps a conservative estimate, but the whole debate has been based on that figure.
In relation to the mansion tax, does my hon. Friend not think that there is too much looking at London and not enough looking at how the rest of the country would fare? It often strikes me that debates on legislation apply only to London, even though they matter to the rest of the country. I agree with a mansion tax, but the Government are split on it—the Conservatives do not support it; the Liberals do.
We had certainly always understood that the Liberals supported a mansion tax, but every time the opportunity comes up to consider it, vote on it or even speak about it, they seem conspicuously absent.
The differences between London and the rest of the country, on property prices and other issues, are a serious matter. The gap is increasing, and we should all be seriously concerned about the impact of that on the whole UK. It has happened during nearly all previous recessions, after which Governments of all parties have sought to restore some balance and encourage economic growth in places outside the south-east. We always seem to be running to stand still. The situation is serious, and we should consider it.
Jobs and people are being sucked southwards in quite a big way, and local government finance now works in such a way that there are huge differences. In many areas, for example the north-east of England, the loss of public sector jobs and income for local government means that there are no jobs for people who have just qualified as teachers, for instance. All the jobs are in the south-east. We should be worried about that. We should not wait for three, five or 10 years and then say that we have to do something to redress the balance.
Property taxes do have significant advantages over income taxes. We hear a lot about the mobility of income. One argument that has always been made against raising income tax rates—it was made against the 50p tax rate when it was introduced and has been made in favour of reducing it—has been that people will leave the country or not come here. It has been argued that, faced with that tax, people will simply move elsewhere and we will not attract people here. The one advantage of a property tax—it has been an advantage of council tax and its predecessor the rates—is that it is much harder to evade or avoid, because the property is actually there. There is a significant place in our fiscal balance for property taxation.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about the mansion tax. Has she followed the Government’s argument on clauses 97 and beyond, which are about the annual tax on enveloped dwellings? Has she noticed over the past hour that Government Members have not made a single argument against the administration and operation of a mansion tax? All that they can come up with is particular cases and arguments about how many properties will be affected. The administration of a mansion tax would not involve changes to council tax or other such matters. The annual charge could be used as a broad foundation of a mansion tax.
I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful steer towards the point that it might not be as difficult as some people assert to implement something of that kind. The advantage of property taxation is that it is more solid than income taxation, as we have clearly seen. Worryingly, the biggest reason some people give for why the 50p tax rate does not raise as much as they thought it would is that people were able to move income forward and back. Income is quite mobile.
Using that argument, people have said, “Oh well, we’ll raise more with a 45p rate than a 50p rate” yet my hon. Friend will know that year on year, bankers’ bonuses went up 64%. Does she agree that bankers were moving their income from a 50p year into a 45p year, and that if we had kept that rate up we would have raised that money? We should have done that as well as the mansion tax.
It certainly sounds on the face of it as if some sort of income arrangement was possible. For a lot of us, including people on PAYE, that would be difficult to do, but it is easier for other people. I have advocated not running away from a tax on property too easily. Not long ago we had that debate at some length in Scotland after a proposal by the Scottish Government to move to local income tax—again, they decided not to proceed with that. Some of the problems with local income tax concern the mobility of individuals’ incomes and the fact that some wealthy people might be able to avoid paying that tax. Those of us in political parties in Scotland that opposed moving to local income tax argued strongly the advantages of a property tax. Interestingly, the SNP Government, from 2007, backed away from their proposal in the face of those arguments.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s enormous generosity in giving way. She may know that in the past two years, the top 10% have seen their income rise by 5.5% each year—that is 11% in two years while everyone else is being squeezed. The rich are getting richer and richer, and the Tories are cutting the top rate of tax. Given that people are buying bigger and bigger houses with the great huge buckets of money they are getting, is it not right that they should face a mansion tax?
I was looking through the property pages of The Sunday Times yesterday, and interestingly it was full of descriptions about valuable houses and how property prices are rising. Since property prices at the top end were rising so much—driven partly by investment from abroad—it was argued that that would be good for everyone because it would lever up property prices for all. The argument is that high property prices are always beneficial, but those who tried to buy homes up and down the country long before the credit crunch know that high property prices are a double-edged sword because many could not get on the property ladder at all. In many parts of the country, not just in London, the amount that must be earned to buy even an average-priced house is more than people can earn in that area.
As property prices go up, rents also start to go through the roof. That has been reflected up and down the country and it will make it more difficult for people to rent property.
There has undoubtedly been a huge increase in the private rented sector. When I was elected as a councillor and became interested in housing, all the housing authorities and textbooks said that the private rented sector had become a residual sector and was disappearing. It might perhaps be there as a niche for young professionals or students, but it was not expected to be an important part of the housing mix. Within a short period—probably 10 to 15 years—we have seen an explosion in the private rented sector and in private sector rents. That is another issue for young people, particularly those who might wish to settle permanently. They cannot afford to buy a home because house prices are too high or they cannot get a mortgage. In the meantime they pay very high rents, which makes it difficult to save. I am not entirely convinced that high property prices are always a great bonus, and we should be looking for a more stable property market.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s enormous generosity in giving way again. Is she aware—I am sure she is—that property prices in London have grown so much that some local authorities have greater asset value than the entirety of Wales? Therefore, the mansion tax is a sort of cap—
Order. Mr Davies, you were right when you said that you have intervened a lot. I do not mind you intervening but please do not take up so much time that you are almost making a speech.
I was not aware of the figure to which my hon. Friend Geraint Davies refers, but if that is the case it is a fascinating reflection on the huge differences between different parts of the country. If we do not do something about that soon, we will regret it in the near future.
Labour Members are constantly berated about the fact that we—the previous Government—abolished the 10p tax rate. At the same time, the current Government do not seem that keen on reintroducing it. We are accused of changing our mind, but it now appears that the Government are changing theirs. When the 10p tax rate was abolished, they attempted to make great political capital out of the issue—fair enough; that is what politics is about—and they have done so since by saying that it was a bad thing for us to have done and should not have happened. Now we are talking about reintroducing a 10p tax rate, and suddenly that is a bad thing to do. For people in low-paid employment—of whom there are many—there are advantages in having a more graduated taxation system that enables them to build up disposable income as they go. As we know, disposable income has fallen for many households in this country, which is a serious matter.
Looking specifically at the new clause, I hope it is not unreasonable to suggest that we consider and study such a measure. It perhaps prompts the question of why the Government are so against it, because if they are sure that a study would show that it would not be practicable or successful, there is nothing much to lose. From what the Minister said during an intervention, it sounds as if the Government may have already done some work on the provision, and on that basis, it should not be so difficult. People in the country want to see whether the measure could be a feasible means of ensuring that those who have asset wealth pay their fair share.
It has been a number of weeks since we debated the provision in earlier stages of the Bill. My concern about the mansion tax policy, which I support in principle, is whether agricultural land would be included as a part of the estate that would be taxed. Does the hon. Lady agree that we must ensure that farmers are protected?
And Scottish farmers, I am sure, and so on.
A mansion tax—I think my colleagues on the Front Benches would agree—is about residential property, not business property, which is already taxed in various ways. Obviously, a whole raft of taxes are appropriate for businesses, and that would be the best way to deal with the issue, rather than a mansion tax. If a mansion tax is a way of ensuring that we can appropriately tax wealth, we should consider it very seriously, given that it is probably a better basis for taxation than income, which people can move around—I have yet to see a house be dragged offshore. That may not be impossible, but in this country we generally do not put houses on wheels and move them, unlike in the United States—at least, so we see in the movies. A mansion tax would be a way to help the low-paid, through the introduction of the 10p rate.
My hon. Friend has made a strong speech so far, but is she—as I am—completely bemused by the position of the Liberal Democrats? In February, the Deputy Prime Minister said:
“My approach is simple: taxes on mansions; tax cuts for millions.”
It is more like no taxes on mansions and tax cuts for millionaires.
I suspect that that policy got lost in the negotiations that are part of a coalition. I have also heard the Deputy Prime Minister say that he would flex his muscles on all kinds of issues, the most recent being the number of children that could be cared for. The Deputy Prime Minister was keen to tell the country that he had flexed his party’s muscles and prevented that change from being introduced, but he has not flexed them on the mansion tax. Either it is possible for the junior partner in the coalition to flex its muscles successfully or it is not. There are other areas in which the Liberal Democrats have seemingly not thought it necessary to use the muscle they claim to have.
In relation to the mansion tax we will doubtless hear a lot about income-poor people—how will they be able to afford it? Would we expect them to sell their homes or move elsewhere? We cannot have that debate, however, without talking about the bedroom tax. A constituent of mine is 59 and has recently been made redundant. She is looking for work, but with a retirement age of 63 she will not easily find another job. She has been living in her home for 18 years, but it has a relatively small single second bedroom. The kitchen opens off the living room, which militates against taking in a lodger—one of the things people have been advised to do. Her current income is less than £72 a week. From that, she is paying £14 towards her rent as a result of the bedroom tax. That is a significant proportion of her income.
My constituent does not want to leave her home, as she has put a lot of effort into it and she lived there with her husband until she was widowed about four years ago. She has looked into the possibility of moving, but there is a shortage of one-bedroom homes in the city. Two weeks ago, 23 one-bedroom homes were advertised—the total from all the social landlords in the city, the housing associations and the council. Those homes attracted varying numbers of applications, but the lowest was 45 and the highest was 370. Four had more than 200, and another seven had between 100 and 200. My constituent’s prospects of being rehoused are, therefore, not great. Our city also has a large number of people waiting for this kind of housing who are living in expensive private rented housing or temporary accommodation that costs far more in housing benefit than the rent being charged to my constituent.
People like my constituent are being asked to make some serious sacrifices, and they do not have an easy choice. It is not easy to downsize, because there is nowhere to downsize to—
Order. I am sure that the hon. Lady must be getting to the point at which she links her remarks with the new clause. I am struggling to see the link at the moment.
The link is that some would argue that a mansion tax would be oppressive on people who may live in a house that is valued at more than £2 million, but have a very low income, and they should not be expected to find that payment. As has been suggested to my constituent and others, such people may wish to consider taking in a lodger, releasing some of their equity or downsizing. I suspect that downsizing with that type of property would be easy. I would hope, therefore, that such arguments would not be made against a mansion tax. I hope that the Government will support the new clause, because if their arguments are as strong as they say, they will be able to disprove our case very quickly.
I feel as though this is part two of my speech. I listen to Government Members, and I hear the sound of the creation of two Britains. We have the Britain of the elite who are protected by the Government, who bring about tax cuts for the most affluent in our society. Then we have the other Britain—people who are playing by the rules but have seen their benefits squeezed, their tax credits cut and their council tax benefits cut. When they go shopping, their bills have increased because of the VAT increase. Nor is this society encouraging work, because work does not pay. Those people in work can be reliant on the benefits system, but the policies of the coalition Government are skewed against them—the vast majority of people in this country who are playing by the rules and want something better from their lives.
I feel sorry for Mike Thornton, who has not been a Member for very long. He is in his place alone as we challenge the Liberal Democrats on their approach to the mansion tax. As on tuition fees, VAT, tax avoidance and the tax cut for the most affluent, what they said in opposition, when they sat on this side of the House with no hope of being in government, was a different kettle of fish from what they say in government.
I can never clear my mind of the image of the Deputy Prime Minister, in a party political broadcast, implying—I do not wish to use unparliamentary language—that anyone who was not a Liberal Democrat was a teller of mistruths. Students remember that party political broadcast saying that tuition fees would not go up under any Liberal Democrat Government. It was a different matter when they found themselves in government.
In February, the Deputy Prime Minister said:
“I continue to believe we should ask for what would be a modest contribution from the very wealthy, either in the form of a Mansion tax—a 1% levy on properties worth more than £2m—applied just to the value over and above £2m; my preferred option. Or, alternatively, we could introduce new council tax bands at the top end, again, affecting properties worth over £2m…Nothing could do more to demonstrate a commitment to greater fairness in our tax system. I will continue to make this argument, in this Coalition and beyond. My approach is simple: taxes on mansions; tax cuts for millions.”
What did the Deputy Prime Minister do in the coalition? Did he sit there and fight for a mansion tax? No, the evidence—and we have to go on the evidence—is against it. In every major decision that the coalition has made, many of them unpopular, the Deputy Prime Minister has been found wanting. Let me explain something to the hon. Member for Eastleigh, who, in fairness, is the only Liberal Democrat Member who has sat through this entire debate. If that is who his leader is—if that is what his leader is about—he should ask whether the Deputy Prime Minister is equipped to lead the Liberal Democrats into the next election.
It gets even worse for the Liberal Democrats. Not only did the Deputy Prime Minister say in that discussion point that he was a supporter of the mansion tax, but the Business Secretary went on to say to the BBC in March this year:
“Nick Clegg and I are very strong supporters of the mansion tax”.
I am really pleased to hear that, and I am sure my hon. Friend will be, too. I await to see how they will vote in the Lobby this evening.
I, too, hope to see them in the Lobby, but I am sure that they will not be there. That is the wonderful thing about the Liberal Democrats: it is the only party that can support something—have the bare-faced cheek to stand up in favour of something—and then vote for the exact opposite in the Division Lobby. That is what the Liberal Democrats should remember: in the marginal seats that they need to hold on to, they will be judged on their priorities—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Eastleigh want me to give way to him, or is he happy to listen? [Interruption.] Indeed, we do not usually hear from a Liberal Democrat.
The Liberal Democrats will be judged on their priorities, and their priorities have not been what they said they would be. They are not for the students; they are not for the elderly; they are not for the poorest paid in society: they are simply there to prop up this coalition Government. They are becoming nothing but voting fodder for this Tory Administration. I notice that the Tory Members were nodding when I said that. If any further proof were required about who is in the senior part of—
Order. Mr Evans, I gave you a little leniency on the earlier new clause, but on this one, we have got so far off the mark that I do not know how to drag you back. I am worried about the time ticking away, and it would be better for the House if you spoke to the new clause. I am sure that that is exactly what you are going to do next.
Having the clause in the hon. Gentleman’s hand is not necessarily helpful; it is what he says that matters more.
I ask anybody who says that this mansion tax cannot be introduced to read clause 92, which relates to the annual tax on enveloped dwellings. Under the heading of “Charge to tax”, it states:
“A tax (called ‘annual tax on enveloped dwellings’) is to be charged in accordance with this Part…Tax charged in respect of the chargeable interest if on one or more days in a chargeable period…the interest is a single-dwelling interest and has a taxable value of more than £2 million, and…a company, partnership or collective investment scheme meets the ownership condition with respect to the interest.”
That seems very much like a mansion tax to me. Clause 97 goes on to state:
“The amount of tax charged for a chargeable period with respect to a single-dwelling interest is stated in subsection (2) or (3).”
A table then sets out the annual chargeable amounts, highlighting the taxable value of the interest on the relevant day. It shows that if the property is worth more than £2 million but not more than £5 million, it would raise £15,000; if it is worth more than £5 million but not more than £10 million, it would raise £35,000; if it is worth more than £10 million but not more than £20 million, it would raise £70,000; and if it is worth more than £20 million, it would bring in a whopping great £140,000. If that is not a step towards a mansion tax, I do not know what it is. But still—
Order. I can cope a little bit with this speech. The Liberals may well want to hear the hon. Gentleman, but he has to address the Chair. Constantly looking at the Liberal is not helpful for Mr Thornton, but it would be helpful for Mr Evans if he were looking at the Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the rest of his speech will be conducted through this Chair, rather than through the Opposition chair—much as Mr Leslie would provide him with advice, he really should speak to this Chair.
Let me try to help the hon. Gentleman out. He will be aware that in Wales we had a council tax revaluation for domestic properties in 2005. Does he think that a similar evaluation for England might achieve the objectives of a mansion tax and probably raise far more?
I find myself in shock, but I agree with a member of the Welsh nationalist party. There is some merit in that idea, which is something we can look at.
This new clause presents an opportunity for the Conservatives to reverse the inequality that I have talked about—the two Britains that are starting to emerge in our society. If we agree with a mansion tax, we will be able to fund a tax cut for millions of people. We support the increase in personal allowances, but the reintroduction of the 10p tax would mean that work pays once again. I know that the Tories will say that we abolished it. We must be big enough in politics to admit that we got something wrong, and we got it wrong when we abolished the 10p tax rate, which would give the lowest in society an opportunity to go out to work and make work pay. This is what I mean when I talk about how difficult it is to get back to work once someone is out of it. We can do this today.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about how work will pay. The other side of the coin is how the 10p tax rate would make it advantageous for employers to take people on, because it becomes far more attractive to employers to do that. Does he see that benefit for employers, too?
Yes, I do. I think this is a win-win situation for everyone. Yes, I have said that we got the 10p tax wrong, but I think a lot of employers would welcome a 10p tax rate. As I have said here before, Opposition Members agree that work is the only way out of poverty, and a mansion tax could provide a way forward on that.
The new clause deals with a mansion tax. Labour has often been accused of having no policies and of not setting out our policies or of not being forthcoming enough, but we have said that we need to introduce a mansion tax to bring about a 10p tax cut and bring some fairness into society. Fair taxation should not be a Labour issue, a Tory issue or a Lib Dem issue; it should be across party. Fair taxation should interest us all, but without a fairer and less complex system, we cannot hope to achieve what we want, which is to see more people in work, paying their taxes and bringing down the deficit that way. With that, and after a number of interventions from you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall sit down.
I was in the Chamber at the opening of the debate, and I would like to make a brief contribution on this subject. I am keen to see us move the debate forward a little on the issue of progressive taxation. My hon. Friend Chris Evans was right to say that the Labour party was wrong to abandon the 10p tax rate before the last election, as it caused a good deal of concern in constituencies right across the country. It is important that we reassess that policy position now.
It is useful that we are matching the commitment to reintroduce the 10% band with a proposal for a mansion tax, linking the two objectives, and I am particularly supportive of the mansion tax. As we heard in an earlier segment of the debate, one of the key issues is tax avoidance, and Government Members made great play of the fact that the higher rate of income tax introduced at the end of the last Labour Government was not going to deliver much revenue because people would attempt to avoid it. I can understand that argument, but I think they are wrong, because we did not have a long enough period to see it work though, and not enough time was given to allow the new top rate we brought in to bed down.
One thing that can be said of the mansion tax is that one can with certainty ensure that income is being delivered for the Exchequer. Clearly, by their very nature, properties do not move. Some Members have referred to the possibility of revaluation of the council tax base. I do not think that there should be a broad revaluation in England at this stage, but I do think that it would be logical to apply a mansion tax to the largest properties in the country, given the need to generate a tax system that is fair and progressive.
During the financial crisis that arose before the last general election, the Labour Government had to move dynamically to ensure that the banks did not collapse. The current Government have made great play of claiming that the deficit was generated by the last Labour Government’s spending priorities over a long period, but that, of course, is nonsense. The Labour Government had to step in to tackle a global financial crisis which had largely begun in the United States as a result of the sub-prime mortgage market. Had they not acted, some very large banks in this country would have gone to the wall, and further difficulties would have resulted from that. We have a significant deficit because the last Labour Government had to secure the stability of the financial sector.
Recovering from that situation, which any Government elected in 2010 would have had to attempt to do, requires society to share the burden. That is why the last Labour Government proposed a higher top rate of income tax than they had proposed during most of their time in office. They understood that the burden must be shared across income ranges, and that those with the broadest shoulders must pay the most if the deficit was to be reduced.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn said, a mansion tax would enable us to rectify one of the mistakes that were made towards the end of the last Labour Government’s period in office. It would allow us to introduce a 10% rate, thus creating a progressive tax system under which those at the top of the tax tree would pay their fair share, and those on lower incomes would have a chance to put more money in their pockets and into the economy. The richest members of society do not have to spend all their incomes and assets on products in the economy, but those on the lowest incomes invariably have to spend nearly all, if not all, their incomes in that way. By spending money in the economy, they secure demand in the economy, and that generates growth.
The new clause has three positive aspects. It is progressive because it would tackle people with larger properties; it makes a welcome commitment to the reintroduction of a tax rate that we should have been retained; and it ensures that those who are most able to spend money in the economy—and who spend most of their incomes in that way—spend it in their local communities, thus generating demand and therefore growth.
New clause 9 proposes the introduction of an income tax rate of 10% on a band of income determined by the Exchequer yield of a mansion tax. Let me explain why the Government do not believe that the new clause is sensible
We are already helping people on low and middle incomes by means of the tax system. In May 2010, the coalition agreement set out our commitment to making the first £10,000 of income free from income tax by the end of the Parliament. In April we increased the personal allowance to £9,440—that was the largest ever cash increase—and it will rise again, by a further £560, to reach £10,000 in 2014-15, meeting this Government’s commitment a whole year early.
Opposition Members clearly think that it would be better to introduce a starting rate of income tax, but let us not forget that they introduced a 10% rate once before and then scrapped it, to the cost of many of the people further down the income scale whom they claim to want to help. We have replaced the 10% rate that they doubled with successive increases in the tax-free personal allowance which effectively provide a 0% band. Our changes in the personal allowance have already more than compensated those who lost out when the 10% rate was abolished. In fact, since April 2013, those who lost the most as a result of the last Government’s policy have paid no income tax at all.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies,
“the proposal for a new 10p starting rate of income tax, has no plausible economic justification. It would complicate the income tax system and achieve nothing that could not be better achieved in other ways.”
The IFS says:
“A far simpler and more sensible way of achieving these aims would be to spend the same amount of money on increasing the personal allowance...This would have virtually the same impact on individuals’ tax payments… be slightly more progressive, take some people out of income tax altogether and avoid the complexity involved in introducing a new income tax rate.”
Proposed subsection (2) of the new clause proposes the introduction of a mansion tax to pay for the proposed introduction of a 10% rate. That proposal has already been debated a number of times in the House, and the Government’s position is clear. The coalition parties have different views, but the view of my party is that a mansion tax is not the answer.
We expressed our concern in the Public Bill Committee, during a debate on the annual tax on enveloped dwellings. As we made clear then, a third of the properties in London that are worth over £2 million have been owned by the same people for more than 10 years. Many of those people, such as elderly owners whose properties had increased substantially in value during that period, would be faced with an average tax of £36,000 every year, and could be forced out of their homes. Moreover, families or other owners of high-value homes would not necessarily have the liquid income that would enable them to pay the tax. A mansion tax could hit asset-rich but potentially income-poor households.
I will in a moment. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s question, and will listen to it attentively. Before I do so, however, I should acknowledge his assurance that there would be a case for some type of mitigation for people in the circumstances to which I have just referred. That would, of course, have an impact on the yield, and the average of £36,000 would increase.
Let me reply by echoing what was said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions during Question Time this afternoon. For all that we hear from Labour Members about the so-called bedroom tax—the spare-room subsidy—they have given no indication that they would reverse the current Government’s policy. For all the bluster on that—[Interruption.] Let me make this point. Labour Members should be straightforward about the fact that their policy would have an impact on, for example, elderly widows who have lived for many years in a property whose value has increased. Would they seek to address that?
In addition, the mansion tax would not be precisely targeted at the very wealthy. It would not take into account the number of properties owned. Therefore, a person owning two properties valued at £1.9 million each would not fall within its scope but a family owning a £2 million home would, even though their property wealth was much lower. Any mansion tax would be complex to introduce and administratively burdensome for HMRC to operate. It would come at a cost for taxpayers, not to mention that it would be intrusive for the person having their home inspected.
I know that the essence of Labour’s argument is that we already have the annual tax on enveloped dwellings. However, that is a very targeted tax. Essentially, only 1,000 properties are likely to be affected by it, so it applies to only a very small group of taxpayers. HMRC can therefore administer the tax manageably, relying on self-assessment, with a limited number of inquiries. A mansion tax would affect a much larger number of taxpayers and require greater administration and valuation, which would make it much more expensive, time consuming and difficult to collect.
I am interested in the fact that the Minister thinks that the analogy is not applicable. How, though, would the administration of the mansion tax be more time consuming? The owner of the property would have responsibility for the valuation. It would not be more onerous for HMRC in that respect, if it were to follow the design of the ATED arrangements.
We do not believe that that model could be scaled up to apply more generally. A proper valuation process will be needed if the mansion tax is a much less targeted tax. Let me give the Labour party a degree of credit, however. The hon. Gentleman said that Oppositions are often asked how they would pay for a measure, and Chris Evans said that Labour has a policy to pay for this proposal. However, under the mildest of questioning, the policy appeared to unravel before our eyes. The target yield is £2 billion. I repeat a number that I gave some weeks ago in Committee: the Treasury believes that 55,000 properties are valued at above that level. We undertook that research to cost the annual tax on enveloped dwellings. That is the number. A very simple calculation gives us an average of £36,000 a year. Rather than Labour saying, “We accept that. That is how we will pay for this. That is how we will get a yield of £2 billion,” it is sliding away from the policy. It is not accepting that that is the consequence of what it is advocating. If it thinks that £36,000 is too steep—maybe it does not, maybe it does—it should acknowledge that, but that is the average cost. I suspect that Labour does think that it is too steep and that is why the £2 million threshold is under threat. That is why, to raise £2 billion, any Government would have to apply the mansion tax to lower down the property ladder. That is why a tax that is designed for the few will become a tax for the many. The tax is ill thought out. Either it will result in very high sums being levied on small groups, or it will not raise anything like the yield that the Labour party claims it will and it will apply more generally.
Introducing a mansion tax would create real fairness issues by hitting asset-rich but potentially income-poor households. It would serve only to create complexity and uncertainty. The personal allowance is the most effective way to support those on low and middle incomes, because it enables people to keep more of their money. It is a better policy than reintroducing the 10p rate of income tax. The Government have made huge strides to make a fairer society and a stronger economy. All elements of the new clause are flawed. I urge Chris Leslie to withdraw the motion.
I can assure the Minister that he is wrong to have concerns that anyone is looking to apply the policy to properties below £2 million in value. I can assure him that Gauke Towers will be safe, unless of course in leafy Hertfordshire that property has now increased in value to that level. Perhaps the Valuation Office Agency could give us an estimate, but I assure him that that is not the intention. We simply urge the Government to come clean on the research, which we now understand the Treasury has commissioned.
We now have a couple of Liberal Democrats in the Chamber, albeit looking at their iPhones—[Interruption.] Their Samsung Galaxys—my apologies. They will be interested to know that the Treasury has commissioned research into the feasibility of a mansion tax, so now we know that it is worth a freedom of information request to try to elicit the information. Let us draw out the information.
The Minister mentioned that there are 55,000 properties worth £2 million or above. The Liberal Democrat manifesto promise may well yet come to fruition. We know that the Liberal Democrats put a lot of effort into pulling together the detailed figures on the proposal. We were persuaded of the case and now it looks as though slowly but surely the Treasury is coming into that frame of mind, too.
It is right that we focus on finding a way to support a tax cut that would supplement the personal allowance zero rating. The 10p starting rate would be a better and more progressive tax, which could be supported by the hon. Members for Harlow (Robert Halfon), for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) and for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers)—those Conservative Members who have voiced the case in favour of a 10p starting rate of income tax in recent months.
We know that the annual tax on enveloped dwellings could be the foundation upon which the administration of the policy could work. I was not convinced by the Minister’s argument that there was no read-across from that new tax, which the Treasury is introducing in this Bill. My hon. Friends the Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and for Telford (David Wright) spoke eloquently about the economic benefits that could arise if the new 10p band were in place for lower and middle-income households. That money could feed through into the economy more directly and in a progressive way. The hardship and the tax rises that we have seen from the coalition parties have not reduced the deficit, which is going up. Unfortunately, that is the price being paid for the Government’s failed economic plan.
We still hope to persuade the Government that steps can be taken to help people on lower and middle incomes this year. Let us get the Treasury to publish that work. Now we know that research has been commissioned, let us have it published and in the public domain. It could help to stimulate the economy and help the many people who are finding life much harder under this Government. The concept of a mansion tax, asking those with considerable wealth to pay a fairer share to help those on more modest means, is an idea whose time has come.
In my neck of the woods, there are not too many people with £2 million houses. There may well be in Nottingham East. This issue was raised earlier, but will the hon. Gentleman make it absolutely clear whether the Labour party’s plans for the mansion tax include farmhouses?
I do not think that our plans do. We would look at mansions—that form of housing accommodation. However, I would be prepared to see whether the Treasury study, which could be commissioned under the new clause, could look at whether farmhouses would be ruled out. We would be happy to look at such questions. We should, however, be looking at personal estates of £2 million and more in that built-mansion context. That is the nature of the proposition before us. In clause 97 and beyond, definitions of property are set out in respect of the annual tax on envelope dwellings. They provide a series of exemptions and set out where the line should be drawn in terms of farmhouses and so forth. I recommend those clauses to the hon. Gentleman, as they may well serve as a guide as to how a mansion tax could work in future.
We need that work to be undertaken, however. This new clause does not seek instantly to implement the Liberal Democrat proposition. It simply seeks to find ways of building on that as a basis on which to look at the annual tax on envelope dwellings, thinking of how that might apply to a mansion tax, and in particular using that revenue to help 25 million basic rate taxpayers.
That is the objective. We have got to give more help to those who are finding it difficult to make ends meet. That is why I commend this new clause to the House.